BREAKING: JERSEY CITY MAYOR STEVE FULOP announces full control of the Jersey City schools will be returned to the locally elected school board. He made the announcement before the state school board voted to relinquish state control, demonstrating the deal was in the works without regard for the state board’s opinion. As a political fig leaf to justify returning the district to local control despite poor test scores, Hespe created a committee to “study” what to do about the embarrassing problem of student performance. But Fulop’s original statement–including remarks by superintendent Marcia Lyles–shows the deal was in to restore local control no matter what the state board members think.
The state board voted to restore control of personnel and operations to the local board. Yet, in its 2012-2013 report, the state operated district in Jersey City said this:
“Local control for personnel was returned to the district in 2012. The District continues to pursue full local control in the areas Instruction and Program.”
Local control for personnel was returned to the district in 2012. The District continues to pursue full local control in the areas Instruction and Program.
Here is my earlier story:
The state Board of Education could return full control over the Jersey City public schools to its local school board today (Wednesday, Oct. 7)–exactly 26 years and three days after New Jersey officials, citing mismanagement and student failure, took over the state’s second-largest school system.
A member of the state board, speaking anonymously, said the panel would vote on a proposal from state Education Commissioner David Hespe that would return local control, despite the failure of the district to attain adequate progress in improving student performance.
“There is going to be a debate,” said the board member. “There has to be a discussion about the failure of the state to improve student performance.”
The Jersey City schools were taken over Oct. 4, 1989, by a unanimous vote of the state board. At the time, Saul Cooperman was state education commissioner and Tom Kean was governor–a Republican who pushed the school takeover bill through a reluctant legislature. It was the first state takeover of a New Jersey school district.
Since then, the state has taken over the Paterson, Newark, and Camden public schools. The nature of the state regimes have changed radically in the last quarter-century however–beginning with an effort to clean up corruption and, in the case of the recent seizure of Camden schools under Gov. Chris Christie, to create an environment for the growth of privatized education.
Despite the symbolic importance of the return of full local control, the Jersey City school board has, in fact, had more control of its system than any of the other state takeover districts. Control over governance and finances were returned to the local board in 2008 and control over personnel in 2012. In only two areas–instruction and operations, which includes facilities–has the state continued control.
The most immediate impact may be on the superintendent, Marcia Lyles, whose contract is up next year and who must be notified of non-renewal by December.
The state school board’s decision also is likely to have an impact on Newark where growing tensions over 20 years of state control boiled over into massive street demonstrations that threatened to embarrass Christie’s presidential aspirations.
The furor over continuing state control in Newark all but vanished after newly-elected Mayor Ras Baraka reached a deal with Christie that resulted in the firing of unpopular superintendent Cami Anderson and a vague promise by the governor that local control would be returned.
The same deal brought former state education commissioner Christopher Cerf to Newark as Anderson’s replacement. Cerf had played a key role in Christie’s handling of state-takeover districts. For example, he returned some measure of local control to Jersey City despite the district’s failure to reach all state standards. At the same time, as the state education chief, Cerf refused to return local control as commissioner despite Newark’s attainment of all appropriate scores under the state accountability system known as the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC).
Courts have upheld the “discretion” of the state’s education commissioner in determining district progress. Cerf also brought in both Anderson to Newark and Lyles to Jersey City. Both had worked with him in the New York public schools under chancellor Joel Klein.
A major problem facing Hespe is the failure of the Jersey City school district to reach student performance standards. If he wants to return full local control to Jersey City, he will have to explain how the district can be released from state control without improvement in student performance. Then he will have to explain to Newark residents why he also won’t return full control to their schools.
The results of the latest round of statewide testing also are likely to be released at today’s meeting.