It doesn’t look good for Newark’s neighborhood schools

BARAKACHRISTIEThe committee that is supposed to figure out how the state will give up control of the Newark schools after 20 years has scheduled its first public meeting Wednesday night (Sept. 23).  The  “Newark Educational Success Board” (NESB)– established in a deal between Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka–is supposed to find out what the community  thinks but the committee has only met secretly since its creation  in June. The members of the committee–five appointed by Christie, four appointed by Baraka (with Christie holding a veto over the mayor’s choices)–won’t even say how many times they’ve met secretly because they are under a gag order that forbids its members from making public statements. All questions must be directed to the mayor’s office and the mayor has a major political stake in the perception of its success.

So much for the word “public” in public education. So much for transparency. But that may be the least of its problems.

Early signs are not promising for those favoring, not just a return to local school control, but also a restoration of traditional neighborhood public schools after 20 years of state control and various highly-touted reforms that managed only to drain Newark’s schools of funding on the way to making the city the charter school capital of New Jersey.

Mayor Baraka doesn’t like to talk about how the district is facing mass privatization and he has dismissed the importance of a debate over the future of privately-operated charter schools. Still, it is clear the political clout of charters has been enhanced by the Christie-Baraka deal–while the strength of the pro-neighborhood school forces has been sapped.

Lots of bad signs.

Shavar Jeffries--from charges of "money laundering" to helping Baraka distribute backpacks
Shavar Jeffries–from charges of “money laundering” to helping Baraka distribute backpacks

Baraka recently toured the city’s neighborhoods, giving away thousands of  backpacks and school supplies, in a publicity event sponsored and paid for by pro-charter, pro-privatization organizations supported by people who sought Baraka’s defeat in last year’s election. That would include Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), headed by Shavar Jeffries. You might remember Jeffries, a proponent of charters, ran against Baraka last year–and got so much money from pro-charter reform groups that Baraka accused his opponents of “a form of money laundering.”

But now Baraka and Jeffries are friends again.

The other groups paying for the political tour included Teach for America (TFA)–those great friends of unionized teachers (a joke, of course).  B4Kids, the pro-charter group run by billionaire hedge-fund manager David Tepper. The Black Alliance for Education Options, funded by the Gates and Walton  foundations. The Newark Charter School Trust Fund. And the Fund for Newark’s Future–the Mark Zuckerberg money.

The Fund for Newark’s Future wouldn’t spend the last of the Mark Zuckerberg money to make up the $25 million deficit the state caused but it will spend money on politics.

It’s almost funny that one pro-charter blogger predicted before the 2014 election that a Baraka victory would actually help charter schools. She was right, albeit for the wrong reasons. She predicted the pro-charter groups, like DFER, would unite against the attacks from Baraka the way the anti-charter groups united against Cami Anderson, the recently fired state-appointed schools superintendent.

The same blogger now has congratulated Baraka for forming a partnership with Christopher Cerf, the business entrepreneur and former state education commissioner who is now schools superintendent in Newark. Next thing, we’ll be holding hands and  singing Kumbaya on a march from City Hall to 2 Cedar Street, school headquarters.

The NESB panel is headed by  Cerf, the man who appointed and now has replaced Anderson. Anderson was fired as part of the Christie/Baraka deal. She was an awful superintendent but she had one great combination of qualities–she was so obnoxious, rude, and insensitive that she unified opposition to state control.

Cerf, author of what became the “One Newark” plan for helping expand charter schools, probably did worse things to Newark children and their parents than Anderson did. And he was a national officer of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. But Cerf is a smooth talker while Anderson hardly spoke to anyone.

Cerf runs the NESB. It also includes Donald Katz, CEO of Audible, Inc. and a national champion of charter schools.  Other pro-charter members include Al Koeppe, a sort of utility CEO–Verizon and PSEGCo–who headed a state authority that gave charter schools $125 million in construction funds because Christie wanted it to. At the same time,  Newark’s public neighborhood schools never did get all the construction money promised to it by the state.

So, whatever happens to NESB,  no matter how often it meets and under what circumstances, it’s clear the panel will protect (and undoubtedly expand) charter schools. And every expansion of charters means more money sucked out of the neighborhood schools.  It doesn’t look good for Newark’s neighborhood schools.

Another bad sign:  The Newark Teachers Union (NTU), once among the harshest critics of state control and Cerf, has all but fallen silent. Recently, it wrote an 8-paragraph letter to members using the word “positive” or “productive” four times to describe a meeting with  Cerf, the man who appointed Anderson four years ago and has now replaced her.

A real charmer, that guy.

You might have noticed that, when particularly outrageous examples of “One Newark” or “Turnaround” flaws are given public attention,  Cerf caves in and resolves the problem. He knows how to play the media. The problem, of course, is that most of what he inflicted on Newark parents and children goes unreported–and unhealed.

As long as squeaky wheels get oiled, who cares about those that don’t? But these aren’t wheels. These are children.

Quiet, too, has been the Newark Students Union, the organization that, more than any other, kept  anti-state control sentiment boiling throughout last spring. It got Christie’s attention. The NSU’s walkouts and marches and acts of civil disobedience put the lie to Christie’s efforts to create a political image of himself as an educational reformer and conciliator who could bring warring parties together. Jose Leonardo, the union’s president, is a NESB member.

But the Christie/Baraka deal has saved the presidential wannabe any noisy embarrassment coming out of the streets of Newark that once were lined with portraits depicting Christie as the liar he is.

It’s all quiet in Newark now. And, with Scott Walker gone, Christie can be the candidate of the nation’s union and public school haters.

So quiet in Newark now that organizers for NJ Communities United, the organization that helped guide the Newark Students Union,  have recently turned their attention to Camden. Of course, Camden is suffering from all sorts of neo-liberal reforms imposed by co-governors Christie and George Norcross, the Democratic boss of South Jersey.

But the battle isn’t won in Newark. Far from it. And while anti-privatization organizers are looking south to Camden, pro-privatization groups are springing up in Newark, ready to provide political cover to Baraka and other politicians who might want to  argue that separate and unequal charter versus public systems aren’t so bad after all. One of those groups counts Anderson’s former flack, Matthew Frankel,  a spokesman for reformies in Montclair, as one of its leaders.

Frankel, by the way, is co-founder of the Montclair “reform” group Montclair Kids First that hired Jeffries as its lawyer in a strange campaign against the pro-public school group.  Frankel also is “senior adviser” to Newark’s 350 Anniversary Celebration that is chaired by Junius Williams, the head of the Abbott Leadership Institute.

Kumbaya, Lord, Kumbaya….

I hate to be a pessimist but all signs point to a long, painful and ultimately disappointing  road to something that undoubtedly will be celebrated as  “local control”  but is only an empty and bankrupt promise. And, in the time it takes to get there, the Cerfs, the Jeffries’, the Tim Cardens, the Donald Katzes of this world will have plenty of opportunity to establish the dominance of privately-operated, publicly-funded charter schools that will suck money from the traditional neighborhood schools.

It doesn’t look good for Newark’s neighborhood schools. But the future looks great for charter schools. Privatization, it turns out, got rid of its last major obstacle when Anderson was sent back to Glen Ridge or Mars or wherever she lives now. The charter people didn’t like her either but kept her around as protection.

Find out more Wednesday evening at 6 pm when the NESB meets at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Newark.




  1. It should be obvious to any thinking individual that “privatize” means the opposite of “non-profit”. And what do these “champions of charter” expect will happen should expectations out strip returns?
    It might work for various individuals in the short term, but long term prospects are dismal, at best.

    1. Anyone notice that the lobbyists for Better Education for Kids and Jersey CAN are the same as those caught up in the David Samson / United scandal? Fox Shuffler was the lobbying firm for both (Jamie Fox and Eric Shuffler). Now the company’s name is River Crossings Strategy Group. Meanwhile, Eric Shuffler is all over the Upper West Side influencing educational policy (Community Board 7 Co-Chair of Youth Education and Libraries Committee, and PTA president) – and they have no clue.

      Bob Braun: Fascinating.

  2. I truly believe that the mayor has not been honest with the people of Newark with the dealings of local control. Personally, I do not think that Newark is in a good financial position to undertake the school system. If folks want local control, then, you will fund the district? If city officials and leaders are looking for the state to continue to fund the district then, there is no local control. The one who controls the money will continue to control the school district. The mayor has shown his lack of political capital and savvy in this matter. Just take a look at the make up of this board. The governor can veto any position that the mayor undertakes. The question becomes, is city aid at risk if the mayor doesn’t yield to the demands of the governor? Then, the mayor plays the childish play of naming calling (“crackpots”) if folks criticize his position on this issue. Grow up and be honest with the people. Now is the time to do so with CC on the national stage.

  3. Please excuse any typos. I am literate.

  4. Any thoughts on this?

    Bob Braun: The book reveals little that is new. The readers of this blog–and my columns with The Star-Ledger–know the story already. I will get around to reviewing it. I do note Christopher Cerf cited the book tonight to defend the financial practices of himself and his appointee, Cami Anderson.

  5. A question that should be posed to the Christie5/Baraka 4 Board is:
    How many (what percent of faculy) teachers without certification for their assignment would be allowed for Newark to be approved to regain local control? That could be a major stumbling block–and actions taken within the district should address it. Or Chris Cerf could be working in NPS till he’s 70.
    Are districts that are regularly re-approved at intervals by the state board of education permitted to have high numbers of faculty teaching outside certification?

    1. If this is indeed the case booklady, Newark will have a major stumbling block in returning to local control. Uncertified teachers and teachers working outside their certifications proliferate particularly in renew schools, but elsewhere as well.

  6. Dear Bob,

    Can you elaborate on your statements here about the NTU? Is the NTU leadership giving in to Cerf and the pro Christie, pro charter school forces?
    Wouldn’t that be a betrayal of their membership and their promises to fight for the children, people and teachers of Newark?

    Why would they do this?

    1. NTU sold out its membership long ago with the negotiation of the “historic” contract. AFT President Randi Weingarten is well known across the country for her collusion with education reformers. Mike, are you a teacher? Wake up and smell the coffee.

      1. What say you, Bob?
        Do you agree with this mildly Amused’s assessment?

        Bob Braun: One of the last interviews I did for The Star-Ledger was with Randi Weingarten about the “groundbreaking” new contract with the NTU. I said then, and I say now, it was a mistake, a bad misjudgment on the part of the national union. Weingarten insisted the union had no choice. I won’t use the word “sell-out” because I do believe the local union leadership believed it had little choice because the membership was not ready for a strike. It still isn’t. I saw the Newark Teachers Association self-destruct when it called for a strike vote and no one showed up and that led to the NTU’s representation election victory and two strikes, in 1970 and 1971. It is far too easy for me from the relative comfort and isolation of retirement to criticize the mothers and fathers who are also members of the NTU to risk their careers but I do not believe the NTU has much of a future in the city unless it finds a way to rally its members to defend the rights and security of school employees. It already may be too late. What has happened to teacher unionism in Newark and elsewhere is unspeakably sad. I also believe that the political and organizational leadership in Newark–that includes Ras Baraka, most members of the city council, the legislative delegation, and the NTU–is far too timid about speaking out about the injury done to parents, children, and teachers by well-funded, politically-connected, inherently discriminatory charter schools. They will have to explain why. I don’t understand.

        1. It is all about the money Bob. Hedge fund owners and other one percenters are far better positioned to influence public policy than middle class teachers. Weingarten has accepted donations from Bill
          Gates, the preeminent education reformer. She favors Common Core, Endless Testing, VAM and merit pay for teachers.

          1. You are usually right to follow the money trail. Sadly, people will compromise and even abandon their principles for the right price.

  7. Most of my FOIA /OPRA (Open Public Records Act) requests to the NPS have been ducked or ignored! They won’t say how much they are paying the private company in Princeton supporting the teachnewark.COM website! (Not .org or .edu) They won’t say what the algorithm (formula .criteria) is/are for selecting teachers to be interviewed and hired! It is clear that age race. minor disability and political activism are being factored in! This would appear to be illegal! We don’t know, because the “algorithm” is secret, like the formula for Coca Cola, the schematic for nuclear weapons and the location of the drones!

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