In Newark, a Trenton bureaucrat runs the schools while Baraka demands immediate local control

Meet the man running the Newark schools--from Trenton
Meet the man running the Newark schools–from Trenton, Peter Shulman

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.”

Mayor Ras Baraka speaks at Carver Tuesday night
Mayor Ras Baraka speaks at Carver Tuesday night

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.

 

 

 

 

7 comments

  1. Urban Educator

    Local control is not coming quickly. In fact, it is not coming at all. As galton2 commented on another site, the puppet is being replaced by the puppeteer. The district is planning to bring up 175 more teachers on tenure charges. The dissident factions in the NTU have lost their crusades. The school year has officially ended. Teachers who refused to organize during the course of the last ten months are unlikely to get their acts together in the summer. Baraka while well intentioned is incredibly naive to think that Christie on the verge of launching his presidential career will relinquish his decider role in Newark. Christie’s choice of Cerf sends a clear message that completing the privatization mission is the order of the day.

  2. Christine

    Commercial real estate–
    are you kidding?
    Is this what public schools are to the state–commercial real estate?
    As a suburban public school parent I watch what the state is doing in Newark with real horror. In the suburbs we expect qualified school administrators to run our districts. We expect to have a say. We expect our special needs and ESL students to receive services. We make sure our kids are all placed in schools. We make sure they have good food to eat. We don’t expect charters to snap up our buildings and pull funding from our schools to give to schools that do not answer to the public. The people of Newark and their children deserve no less.
    The State has made a mockery of public education in New Jersey’s largest city.
    Why should the suburbs trust state education leadership at all when we watch what the state is doing in Newark? How can we?
    The specter of racism present in the image of duly elected Mayor Ras Baraka, a person of color, pleading with a long line of white administrators from the state for the freedom for his city to control education for its own people, is undeniable.
    Why do any of us tolerate this treatment of our fellow citizens? Whatever good for education might have been promised through state control, clearly has not come to pass and only more of the same failings are set to follow.
    Free the people of Newark.
    Give all of NJ what it deserves–a state education department run by qualified experts in public education, supporting public education.
    This situation long ago passed reasonable. The state should be ashamed.

  3. booklady

    According to John Mooney “Reality of Cerf’s Return” NJ Spotlight 6-24, the NJ State Board of Ed has scheduled an extra meeting on Friday, June 26 re Cerf’s appointment.

    Bob Braun: The meeting is a closed, executive session. According to the notice, the board is meeting to discuss “In the Matter of the School District of the City of Newark,” which is the state takeover case. It is closed, according to the notice, because it deals with matters of “lawyer-client privilege.” The state education department and board shamelessly use the exceptions to the Open Pubic Meetings Act to hide what they’re doing from the public.

  4. public education supporter

    I am re-posting my comment from Bob’s previous blog since I wrote it before reading this blog.
    All of this is exactly what I stated in the recent comments following Bob’s blog that broke the news that Cerf was going to replace Cami! Cerf is much worse and they’re hoping that by dangling local control down the road as a carrot nobody will notice the stick that Cerf will bring down on NPS over the next 3 years. Once the district has been entirely dismantled, I’m not sure what local control will even mean! Whatever kind of deal Baraka is making, I truly believe that protests should be organized at every nearby Christie event as he moves towards declaring himself a candidate for President. If enough people make a stink, the media may be bound to report on it since they’ll all be there to cover Christie’s next political moves. SAY NO TO CERF before he gets a chance to sign a contract! As a teacher who just got out of school, I would be willing to go to any and all protests and I hope that both Newark teachers and students can be induced to continue to fight this summer (interesting that Cami’s departure and Cerf’s arrival come not only as Christie is about to announce for POTUS, but also at the end of the school year when it’s so much harder to organize student/teacher protests…).
    NTU please step up to the plate to organize against Cerf’s appointment!

  5. mike

    Dear Bob,

    What is your opinion of John Abeigon’s victory for president of the NTU?
    Will you be holding his feet to the fire now that he has purged all opposition to him on NTU executive board?

    Bob Braun: I thought it appropriate to remain neutral. I really have no opinion on his election except to wish him well during a difficult time. I congratulated him as I would have congratulated Branden Rippey and Michael Dixon, for both of whom I have great respect. Out of a context of specific circumstances, I’m not sure what “holding his feet to the fire” means but I hope to remain an independent journalist and commentator. As you may know, I have turned down offers of ads from both the NTU and the NJEA–unlike other bloggers and media outlets. In fact, I gave away my columns to be used as ads in The Star-Ledger by the NTU, letting my former employer make money from my work. I do not believe I should accept money or anything else of value from any organization I cover. As a consequence, I receive no funding for my blog. I will continue that policy. If you or anyone else thinks Abeigon has done something I should write about, I hope you will contact me.

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