Is Chris Christie trying to bust the Newark Teachers Union?

Teachers at Alexander Street School--about to become a charter--wear black as part of "Fight Back Friday" protest.
Teachers at Alexander Street School–about to become a charter–wear black as part of “Fight Back Friday” protest.

Today, it begins.  It’s the assault on public education in the state’s largest city known as “One Newark.”  Instead of fully funding the state’s school aid formula, instead of ending racial isolation in the schools, instead of returning the schools to representatives of the people of Newark—all of which are required by law—the Christie Administration is beginning a wholesale closing of neighborhood public schools and transfer of valuable real estate to private entities like charters.

How do you stop it? You don’t. Not without organization.  And  it’s clear much of what the Christie machine is doing to Newark is aimed at weakening the one organization with a history of standing up to those who ran the city’s schools—the Newark Teachers Union (NTU).

I’ve had my differences with the NTU and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).  Read my book “Teachers and Power” (Simon and Schuster, 1972). Carole Graves, the NTU’s former president, once published an article in the union newspaper in which she called me  “psychotic.”  Last year, I opposed the deal  Randi Weingarten cut with Christie-appointee Cami Anderson that created the insulting  “merit” pay system that, unsurprisingly, found the vast majority of Newark teachers unworthy of merit awards.

But here’s the problem:  As education historian Diane Ravitch has repeatedly said, teacher unions are now the only organized groups that have even half a chance to push back the effort to turn public education into a Wall Street profit center through the bonds sold by charter school management companies and other privatization efforts.  The voice and impact of neighborhood and political groups can only be magnified if they join with the unions now to stop the attack on public education.

Don’t forget–Christie has powerful political allies in this fight, including Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo–who backed Christie against Democrat Barbara Buono–and newly elected US Sen. Cory Booker a voucher proponent for whom state superintendent Cami Anderson worked.

The attack begins today with the full-page ad in The Star-Ledger inviting the parents of Newark to abandon their neighborhood schools and sign up for admission to other public schools and participating charters. The “universal” application process is the engine that will drive the continued depopulation of conventional public schools and the expansion of charter schools.

One Newark and other policies of the Christie-appointed state administration also seem to be aimed at weakening the NTU in unprecedented ways. One member of the union’s executive board, Nancy Gianni, a first grade teacher at Alexander Street School, points out that the impact of school closings and other changes will be especially severe on union leaders.

“I don’t know whether it is a coincidence or not,’’ says Gianni, a first grade teacher. “But it does appear the NPS (administration) is trying to intimidate the union.

She points out that 25 of the 27 executive board members working in the schools are located in buildings facing overhaul in the One Newark plan. Many of these school employees may lose their jobs, along with hundreds of others if the plan—which calls for “right-sizing” staffing—goes through.

Gianni says she believes many teachers already are frightened or in denial about the impact of the plan on their jobs—and the attack on the union leadership will make it difficult to organize against it.

“Everyone is afraid,” she says.

John Abeigon, the NTU’s director of organization, says he believes the Christie regime is “attacking public education generally,  not just the union,” but he believes the disproportionate impact on executive board members is “coincidental—collateral damage.’’

Abeigon says he believes there is “no question” the Christie administration is trying to “bankrupt” the union  and points out that it is forcing routine grievance procedures to court and that has cost the NTU extraordinary legal fees. At the same time, he says, he believes the administration’s plans encourage the hiring of Teacher for American (TFA) graduates, many of whom do not pay full union dues.

Matthew Frankel, a spokesman for the administration, insists it has “great respect for the NTU executive board” but accuses the union leadership of refusing to talk. He blames the impasse on “incorrect assumptions” held by the union leaders about the administration’s policies. Frankel’s statement did not respond to the charges of attempting to bankrupt the union.

His full statement was:

“We have great respect for the NTU Executive Board and would greatly value the opportunity to work with them directly.  Unfortunately, since the last election, each time we have made a request to speak to the Executive Board it has been denied.  $30 million in Race to the Top funding was taken away from Newark schools because of incorrect assumptions made by the Union Leadership and now we are seeing incorrect assumptions with our plan to create 100 excellent schools.  We hope the NTU Leadership will provide their Executive Board the opportunity to meet with us directly and regularly, so we can begin working together to serve Newark.”

Gianni agrees that efforts to block the closing of neighborhood schools can only be stopped if the union and community and political groups—all of whom oppose the Anderson plan—work together.

“ But can we get together in time”? she asks.

Parent groups—especially in the south and central wards—have been trying to organize opposition to the closing of neighborhood schools. Some have circulated petitions seeking legislative intervention to block the plan. One mayoral candidate, Ras Baraka, has announced his opposition to the plan and called on the Ander son administration to work with parents and school employees to modify the plan. Efforts by community organizing groups to get the organizations together have had only limited success.

The so-called universal application plan closes Feb. 14 when applications from parents must be in.

8 comments
  1. There are those who would benefit greatly with the transference of money from public to charter schools. What major political players have been instrumental in Christie’s election have interests in charter schools?
    Christie’s first targets when he assumed office were public school teachers, describing them as union thugs. As I recall, his mother was one of those union thugs.
    The political bosses who put Christie in office will benefit the most with the extinction ot the teachers union.

  2. Bob,

    Please don’t be so pessimistic. Parents from all the wards have been organizing and are fighting back. They formed Parents Against One Newark two weeks ago and already have a large following: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Parents-Against-One-Newark-Program/497435317037225

    They have collected over a 1,200 paper and electronic signatures so far on the petition to require local, democratic approval before a school can be closed. The electronic version of that petition can be found here: http://action.saveourschoolsnj.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=12633

    More signatures are being collected all the time and the legislation will be introduced soon.

    There is very effective organizing going on! Instead of feeling defeated, everyone who supports public education should help with the fight by liking the Parents Against One Newark Facebook page and signing the petition.

  3. Soon to be introduced legislation on local approval for school closings sounds great but by the time the legislation passes (and the current Governor vetoes it, no?) aren’t we left with a whole bunch of schools in Newark closed and others converted to charters? And why would the state in a state takeover district ever concede (through legislation even) local democratic vote on anything? The effort has to be to get the state out of these districts fast and now.

  4. Commenting on a blog on NJ.com on “Teaching in America,” I used your good point (and Ms. Ravitch’s), as follows:

    “And, further, unions are an essential part of the picture. As Bob Braun puts it in his blogpost today (www.bobbraunsledger.com):

    “… teacher unions are now the only organized groups that have even half a chance to push back the effort to turn public education into a Wall Street profit center through the bonds sold by charter school management companies and other privatization efforts. The voice and impact of neighborhood and political groups can only be magnified if they join with the unions now to stop the attack on public education.”

    Without the support and encouragement of unions, the teaching profession lacks a collective voice and a place at the table. Unions need the support of parents and other organized voices to build and sustain support for teaching, and, for the public schools at the heart of our communities.

  5. Where is my NJEA???
    Where is my NEA???

    Please tell me they are working hard to help Newark Schools!!!!
    Please tell me there are working WITH the NTU and the AFT.

    It’s time to put aside differences and work as team to keep the schools out of profit oriented people.

    The state should be totally embarrassed in having control of the Newark School system and failing terribly in providing a good education for all!

    Giving the schools away to for profit organizations will do nothing but spread money around. Anything a private group can do, the town can do.

  6. 1. @Barry Susman. Christie’s mother was a school secretary. That means that he was raised with a constant whining barrage of negative comments about teachers which most probably fueled his nasty attitude towards teachers and their organizations.

    Regarding the article: Having brought the NJEA its knees, Christie is now going after the most powerful real union in the state. However, he doesn’t dare confront the NTU directly. What concerns me the most is the total lack of support from the parent organization and the AFL-CIO in general. I saw this as a young, striking teacher back in the 70s, and it’s only gotten worse.

    Maybe it’s time to throw in the towel and let Christie have Newark. The city’s educational system has gone to pot since the takeover in the mid90s except for a few schools run by exceptional principals and staff. There hasn’t been a real change in the achievement of the students despite numerous and ever-new methods being proposed to engage and raise reading and math levels. The young people have become increasingly more violent because the teachers who incorporated lessons on morality and ethics are now gone.

    The old line leaders of the NTU should just retire. It’s time to give up the good fight and walk away with their heads held high knowing they did their best. That way when Christie is gone (hopefully not as President) and the Newark School System is still a failure, the NTU will not have to share in the blame.

  7. In other news 150 school board candidates who won election were denied taking their oaths because a state contractor was/is unable to accomodate their background applications by swearing in dates.
    Now> I was taught that on the battlefield there is no such thing as a coincedence, and being as how Christie has exhibited an open and hostile attitude towards teachers I have to wonder what the heck is going on here?
    After the GWB revealtions is it really to far a stretch to ponder whether or not the governors office and the thrid party contractor of a very lucrative state contract colluded to delay background checks?
    *
    Wayne school board reorganizes
    Friday January 10, 2014, 1:54 PM
    BY DEBRA WINTERS
    STAFF WRITER
    Wayne Today
    Print | E-mail WAYNE – Despite a background check that involved a louse up in fingerprinting by a contracted company utilized by the New Jersey Department of Education, newly elected board of education member Cathy Kazan was sworn in at last night’s reorganization meeting held at the BOE offices on Nellis Drive. Three other incumbents were also affirmed.

    STAFF PHOTO BY DEBRA WINTERS
    Wayne board of education member Cathy Kazan, right, gets sworn in by district business administrator Juanita Petty, left. Kazan was sworn in a one year term. Incumbents Robert Ceberio, Alan Mordkoff, and Mitchell Badiner were confirmed for new three year terms. Trustee Laura Stinziano was elected as 2014 board president replacing Badiner. Ceberio was named first vice president and trustee Kim Essen was selected as second vice president. These posts are all one year stints.

    The company that conducted the fingerprinting – MorphoTrust – effectively changed its name on Dec. 9, 2013 from MorphoTrak. This change was part of an internal reorganization that also included a modification of its website and scheduling fees.

    The reformatting led to a backlog of fingerprinting appointments and confusion. Fingerprints usually take about seven days to be completed, at which time the NJDOE’s Criminal Investigation Unit conducts the background check.

    Stinziano stated during the meeting that more than 150 board members around the state were affected by the glitch.

    “It’s unfortunate what happened to Ms. Kazan,” Stinziano said.

    Although Kazan, in the past, has butted heads with school trustees over various topics when she was still a regular citizen speaking publicly, they welcomed her aboard last night.

    “I want to congratulate you Ms. Kazan. And I know we don’t always agree but you have my full pledge we will work together for the best of the kids,” Ceberio said.

    Kazan was rescheduled for a second round of fingerprinting on Jan. 7.

    Email: wintersd@northjersey.com

  8. Cami Anderson has to go! She has no respect for Newarks people or its children. The people of Newark need to stand up for their right to public education. Parents, rise up and voice your opinion at the next board meeting on 1/28th. Cami Anderson wants you to abolish public schools and feed her rich charter school owning friends. These schools are set up to lure parents in and then throw your child out after the oct 15th count. Which means charters keep the monies the state is giving to educate your child. While your child gets put in whatever public school has space. No refunds.Camis plan us all illusion. Smoke and mirrors!! Dont fall for it

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