This is what’s happening to Newark schools now that Cami’s gone: A state official, Assistant Education Commissioner Peter Shulman, is running the district from Trenton. The school board voted to express its desire to hire an assistant superintendent, Roger Leon, to be the new schools chief. And Mayor Ras Baraka, bristling with irritation over negative reaction to the possible appointment of Christopher Cerf as Anderson’s official replacement for three years, says the city’s residents shouldn’t think about anything but regaining local control.
“Local control, local control, local control, that’s all we should be thinking about,” said Baraka during a surprise appearance at a school board meeting Tuesday night. He accused people–including “people on the sidelines”–who were trying to “get other people to fight when they shouldn’t be fighting.”
The problem, of course, is this: former state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, a nationally known champion of charter schools and other forms of privatized education, is probably worse for the public schools in Newark than Anderson ever was. He was head of the nation’s largest for profit education services company–Edison, Inc.–and, while an assistant chancellor in New York, he closed 90 neighborhood schools and open 100 charters.
Baraka, however, doesn’t see it that way. “If we have local control,” he said, “we wouldn’t be talking about who the state would name superintendent, we would be naming the superintendent.”
He is right, of course. But here is his problem: If Cerf serves for two years or more–he will be given a three-year contract–he will have the time to hollow out the Newark public school system so that the local board, once given control, will be presiding over a predominantly charter school district. It will be local control over the ruins of a school district.
Baraka is aware of that. Just as state Education Commissioner David Hespe was announcing that Anderson was out and Cerf was in, he called an emergency meeting at City Hall to ask persistent critics of state control to help form a transition team that would help guide the district back to home rule. Choices included Ariagna Perello, the president of the local board; Roberto Cabanes, an organizer for NJ Communities United that has guided the development of a strong Newark Students Union, and Deborah Gregory, the head of the Newark NAACP.
Gov. Chris Christie apparently believes he and Baraka will work together on resolving the differences between state and city over the control of schools. But the two have virtually nothing in common. Christie is pro-privatization and has starved the city of funds while showering money on charter schools; while Baraka is no critic of charters, he has insisted the city pay more attention to neighborhood schools and favors the creation of community schools that provide a wide range of services to neighborhood families.
Baraka said at Tuesday night’s meeting he wanted control returned to the city “the sooner, the better.” A participant at the earlier City Hall meeting quoted Baraka as saying Christie wanted Cerf in control for at least two years, while Baraka wants local control returned within the next year.
In his talk to the school board, Baraka demanded an immediate end to the enrollment plan that has scattered children to schools throughout the city. “Whatever else happens, ‘One Newark’ must end.” He said he wants to “turn all schools back to community schools.
“We have to be clear about whom we’re fighting–this is fundamentally a fight over local control,” he said.
Baraka received a standing ovation from the crowd at the George Washington Carver School but, after he left, the crowd also cheered on an independent-minded local school board that wants to take back the power stripped from it 20 years ago.
It showed, for example, that it is eager to reverse the expansion of charter schools in the city by voting 6-2 to endorse a bill introduced by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) that would place a three-year moratorium on new expansion of privatized charter schools. Newark is now facing an enrollment crisis, with 40 percent of its students projected to attend charters within the next five years.
The board also rejected the appointment of Cerf to replace Anderson–Cerf actually hired Anderson to run Newark when he was commissioner four years ago. The panel voted 7-0 to express its wish to hire long-time city school administrator Leon as superintendent and to restore powers stripped by Anderson from city school business administrator Valerie Wilson.
Just how meaningful these decisions are, however, is open to question. Charlotte Hitchcock, Anderson’s official counsel, said the district is taking orders from Shulman. And who is he?
Well, he’s never taught in a public school. Shulman, with a degree in economics from Michigan and an MBA from Penn, began his career by establishing a website–cityfeet.com–that was involved in commercial real estate transactions. He also worked for Rockwood Realty Associates.
Ah, but yes, Shulman is a Broadie, a graduate of the Broad Residency Program, begun by rich people, that trains non-educators to take on top administrative positions where certificates are not required. Broadies, by and large, do not like unions and they do like privatization of public schools.
Cerf, of course, is a Broadie and he brought Shulman to New Jersey from Delaware. Now Shulman will be supervising Cerf, his old boss. Shulman also is regretfully known by Highland Park residents who will never forgive him for bringing to their nice town Tim Capone, a fellow Broadie and Delaware refugee. Highland Park didn’t like that Broadie much.
Shulman also is “chief talent officer” for the state education department which basically makes him the man in charge of the new anti-tenure law. The many teachers who will lose their jobs in coming years will, in part, have Shulman to thank.
Newark teachers especially should be wary of Shulman. In an onslaught of phony tenure cases she brought against city teachers, Cami tried to argue that she could use evaluations done in a trial year. Every arbitrator involved in disputed cases ruled against her–and some pointed out that the state education department (no doubt Shulman’s division) posted a website in which it specifically said evaluations in the trial year could not be used.
The state education department quickly took the website down and Shulman–in the midst of disputed legal cases–offered his advice that Anderson could use the trial evaluations. I called what he did part of a conspiracy to deprive teachers of their rights. Take a look.
So Shulman, who doesn’t like teacher rights, will be running Newark for a while until his friend Cerf, the school privatizer takes over with his three-year contract.
The children, parents, and school employees in Newark better hope–with Baraka–that local control comes quickly–because, otherwise, there won’t be much left to control.