Christopher Cerf, Gov. Chris Christie’s man in Newark, apparently thinks the city residents are stupid and do not deserve to know how or why or by whom his chief aide, De’Shawn Wright, is paid. That really is all anyone needs to know about why Cerf should not be the schools chief in New Jersey’s largest city–but, apparently, Cerf’s contempt for the city residents is just fine for most school board members and his ally, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
Wright, a champion of charter schools in Washington, DC, New York, and Newark, and past associate of Cerf and Cerf’s protégé and predecessor, Cami Anderson, is Cerf’s chief of staff, according to an organizational chart released at Tuesday night’s board meeting. Wright is paid a six figure salary but exactly how much is a secret–as is the source of his income.
Although Wright is probably the second most powerful figure in the Newark schools, he doesn’t work for the Newark schools.
Got that? Let’s repeat it: Although Wright is probably the second most powerful figure in the Newark schools, he doesn’t work for the Newark schools.
Who does he work for? Probably for the Fund for Newark’s Future–otherwise known as what’s left of the $100 million Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave to the Newark schools. But that hasn’t yet been confirmed because the fund is a private organization and not subject to New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Or some other private foundation devoted to the expansion of charter schools.
Conflict of interest?
This is what happened Tuesday night as most members of the once defiant and courageous school board sat back and allowed Cerf to drone on about how he and Anderson did marvelous things for the children of Newark for the last five years. The board members, most of them, now have to shut up because Baraka and Cerf are best buds–and some of the board members work for City Hall or have political aspirations that require Baraka’s blessing. Cerf also formally introduced his new management team–with Wright up there as chief of staff.
One board member, Marquis-Aquil Lewis, apparently didn’t get the memo about how he is supposed to allow such things to happen, so he asked about Wright. He wanted to know whether Wright is an employee of the school system. Cerf had to concede Wright was not.
“I’m confused,” said Lewis.
“I can tell,” said Cerf. Disrespectfully.
The term “chief of staff” generally connotes someone who is in charge of the staff. The staff chief. But Cerf insists no one reports to Wright although he is staff chief, or chief of staff.
So how can a school system hire as staff chief someone who doesn’t work for it?
Answer: It doesn’t. Someone else hires him–but you’re not allowed to know.
Only in Newark.
This reporter asked Valerie Wilson, the school’s business administrator, who pays Wright and how much and for whom he really works. She said she didn’t know.
Repeat that: The business administrator of the Newark schools doesn’t know who pays the superintendent’s chief of staff–or how much he is paid.
So then I asked board member Dashay Carter, who, to her credit, is one of the few board members uncomfortable with this unique arrangement.
“We haven’t been told,” she said.
Newark school board members, elected by the city’s residents, are not allowed to know who pays the salary of the superintendent’s chief of staff.
So then this reporter asked Wright who pays his salary. He said I should ask the press officer for Cerf and then he literally ran away. Well, ok, he walked fast away.
Wright refused to say who pays him.
I couldn’t find Cerf’s press officer, but I did find Cerf himself. I asked him, “Why won’t you say who is paying for your chief of staff?”
And he said, “Because you didn’t ask me.”
Then I said, “I am asking you now.”
Then Cerf ran away. Or, walked away fast.
The superintendent of New Jersey’s largest school district refused to say who pays his chief of staff.
This is what you need to know about Wright:
He began his career as a teacher in 1998 in New York for Teach for America, the anti-union and pro-charter organization supported by Cerf and Anderson.
He then began working for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the anti-union and pro-charter mayor of New York. Then he began working for the New York City education department–along with Anderson and Cerf.
In 2006, he hired on with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the pro-charter and anti-union mayor of Newark. Wright left and started the Newark Charter School Fund. His Linked-In resume, printed below, suggests some overlap there–this might not be the first time some outsider paid a privately-employed Wright to hold a public job: Wright apparently works privately and publicly on the wishes of his current masters.
Conflict of interest then, too? Doesn’t matter. Cory Booker is now a US senator–thanks to the political machinations of Chris Christie–and even talked about as a vice presidential nominee.
Then Wright went to Washington, DC, to support charters there–then he bounced on to Albany two years later to be Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy education secretary and back to Newark as a consultant–where he apparently still is a consultant but one who works for Cerf.
Well, no, not for Cerf exactly–for some other unknown, secret entity that has an interest in helping Cerf control the $1 billion school board budget.
Conflict of interest?
And, somewhere in there, Wright apparently served briefly as Cami Anderson’s landlord.
This is how The Star-Ledger described his career when he left Booker in 2010:
Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s education point man is heading to Washington, D.C., after being nominated by Mayor-elect Vince Gray to serve as the District’s deputy mayor for education.
De’Shawn Wright, 35, will consult on educational policy for Gray after serving as a policy adviser to Booker since 2006.
“I am really excited. I’ve had an incredible experience working in Newark and hope to bring the knowledge and experience I’ve learned in New York and Newark to Washington D.C.,” Wright said today in a phone interview.
A Virginia native, Wright enrolled in Teach For America in 1998. After fulfilling his two-year commitment he taught for another two years in New York before going to work for Mayor Mike Bloomberg. In 2003, Wright went to work for city schools chancellor Joel Klein. Roughly a month after Booker’s election, Wright moved to Newark, where he consulted the mayor on a number of policy issues, education chief among them.
Wright has played a big role behind the scenes in Newark coordinating a community outreach effort designed to gather Newarkers’ input for education reform. The effort was sparked by a $100 million challenge grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
This is from Wright’s Linked-In profile:
– Present (2 years 6 months)Greater New York City Area
Independent consultant with 15 years of executive leadership experience in strategy, policy, management, operations and communications. Current clientele consists of a diverse range of organizations and officials in nonprofit, public service, private sector and politics.
– (1 year 3 months)
Serve as cabinet member and highest-ranking education official, crafting and implementing administration’s statewide education agenda and allocating annual budget of ~$58B. Oversee all State activities and initiatives involving the State Department of Education, State University of NY, City University of NY, and the Higher Education Services Corporation.
Manage the Governor’s $200M competitive grant portfolio, which includes pre-kindergarten, community schools, extended learning time, master teacher performance incentive, early college high schools, performance management, and operational efficiency. Spearhead Governor’s Education Reform Commission to provide comprehensive reform recommendations. Lead education team comprising 2 Assistant Secretaries for Education (K-12 & Higher Education) and education division within the Department of the Budget.
– (2 years)Washington, DC
Developed and implemented district-wide birth-to-24 education and youth development strategy. Supervised policy, planning and program coordination across City’s education agencies, which included the Office of the State Superintendent for Education, DC Public Schools, DC Public Charter School Board, University of the District of Columbia and Community College, and DC Public Libraries. Provided fiscal oversight of ~$1.5B annual budget.
– (1 year 4 months)Newark, N.J.
City of Newark, NJ / Executive Office of Mayor Cory A. Booker, 2009 – 2010
Advised Mayor on development of education reform plan for Newark Public Schools and recruitment of Superintendent of Schools in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Education and Office of Governor Chris Christie. Developed portfolio of investment options to guide $200M in philanthropic contributions from major donors including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Pershing Square Capital Management CEO William Ackman.
Developed strategic plan for Mayor’s second term with 4-year goals/priorities identified for public safety, economic development, child and family well-being, education, and government reform. Managed executive search firm to recruit and select Mayor’s senior leadership team including City Business Administrator, Finance Director, NewarkWORKS Director (workforce development), and Brick City Development Corporation CEO.
Newark Charter School Fund, 2009 – 2010
Provided project management support to CEO and strategic advice to Board of Directors to maximize Fund’s investments in new school development and turnaround efforts. Advised Fund on startup funding and support for newly-approved charter providers.
– (1 year 2 months)Newark, N.J.
Co-founded $20M education fund with philanthropic support from the Gates, Walton, Fisher and Robertson Foundations to grow and strengthen the City’s charter school sector. Oversaw Fund’s human capital, new school development, facility, and school turnaround portfolios. Managed relationships with national partners such as New Leaders for New Schools, The New Teacher Project and Teach for America. Oversaw Fund’s startup investments for 7 new operators that increased citywide student charter school enrollment by 45% (from 3500 to 6400). Led Fund’s turnaround investments and served as board member for 2 of the City’s lowest-performing charter schools.
– (2 years 2 months)Newark, N.J.
Served as senior advisor for policy and operations in the areas of public safety, economic development, health and human services, government reform, education, and youth development. Co-led development and implementation of administration’s 100-day plan. Oversaw advance activities and preparation for Mayor’s major public addresses and national media appearances.
Liaison to local, state, and federal agencies and oversaw inter-agency initiatives across municipal departments/agencies. Managed public-private partnerships, generating significant resources for citywide initiatives.