Christopher Cerf–the state-appointed Newark schools superintendent, former state education commissioner, national charter champion and failed business entrepreneur–has scheduled a forum Thursday night from 6 pm to 8 pm at the Park Elementary School to offer his version of where the money went.
The city school district, after 20 years of state control, faces a year-end shortfall of some $20 million. Cerf already has ordered cuts of up to 75 percent in what’s left of neighborhood school budgets. Charter school budgets, however, remained untouched.
At the last school board meeting, students from a variety of schools talked about cuts in services and supplies as Cerf looks for a way to cover up the fiscal mismanagement that occurred under the leadership of the woman he appointed to be Newark superintendent–Cami Anderson.
But, when Cerf appeared before the state school board Wednesday, you’d think Newark was the best-run school district in New Jersey. He justified robbing public schools to fund charter schools because, he said, the charters faced “catastrophic” consequences.
Anderson has blamed much of the shortfall on the district’s own strategies to expand charter school enrollment while closing neighborhood schools–strategies clearly designed to replace traditional public schools with the privately-operated charter schools that are clearly favored in the districbution of public funds. Cerf conceded such policies were not “thought through”–but who needs to think through policies that injure poor children?
Let’s go back and review just how badly the state shafted public schools to reward politically-connected charters:
Leaders of Save Our Schools–New Jersey have suggested that Newark residents review just how the charters were allowed to rob traditional public schools of nearly $70 million in state aid–more than enough to cover the shortfall.
They published this in June: “The Education Law Center confirms that the NJ democratic leadership has chosen to transfer $37.5 million from district to charter schools, funding charter schools at higher levels than required by the charter law while shorting districts for the 7th year in a row.
“We are hearing that the language that Governor Christie put into the FY 2016 budget, that violates NJ’s school funding formula and charter law by diverting $37.5 million from local district public schools to charter schools, is staying in the version of the state budget that the democrats are voting on today.
“If this is true, then the democratic leadership – particularly Senator President Steve Sweeney who has the final word on such matters – is consciously choosing to fund charter schools beyond what the charter law stipulates, at the expense of already underfunded district public schools.
“Equally telling is the fact that Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz, who represents Newark and is on the Senate Budget Committee, could not or would not help the Newark district schools hold on to the $25 million of this $37.5 million that this budget language will shift from Newark District to Newark charter schools. Newark District schools lost an additional $38 million to Newark charter schools in 2014-15 through a similar budget maneuver.”
SOS-NJ then added this: “New Jersey local public school students lost 107.6 million dollars as a result of a budget trick created by the Christie Administration but allowed to stay in this year’s budget by NJ’s democratic legislative leadership.
“HOW DAMAGING WAS THIS FUNDING CUT?
“VERY! As an example, each child attending local public schools in Newark lost more than $2,000 in funding.
“WHO DID THIS MONEY GO TO?
“The money taken from local public school budgets was distributed to 96 charter schools (the amounts each charter school received are detailed in this just released analysis prepared by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services).
“WHO GOT THE MOST?
“Almost $17 million went to just 5 charter schools:
“1) North Star (Uncommon charter network) $6,826,724
2) TEAM (KIPP charter network) $5,414,406
3) Marion P. Thomas charter school $2,250,071
4) Robert Treat charter school $1,051,282
5) Newark Legacy charter school $1,144,664
The charter schools are gearing up for a war that would take even more money from neighborhood public schools. At the same time, the pro-public school forces–in Newark, in any event–have all but withdrawn form the field as a consequence of a deal between Mayor Ras Baraka and Gov. Chris Christie that is supposed to bring local control to the city schools after 20 years of state control.