Seven of the nine members of Newark’s elected school board said they would go to court to seek the end of the city’s school reorganization plan known as “One Newark,” the dismissal of state-imposed school superintendent Cami Anderson, and the return of local control of a district seized by the state in 1995. The board members contend Anderson has violated both school board policy and fire safety codes.
“We will not wait until they destroy Newark’s public schools, ” declared Ariagna Perello, the vice chair of the school board in a new conference on the steps of City Hall.
Four other board members–Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Philip Seelinger, Donald Jackson, and Marquis-Aquil Lewis–joined in the news conference. Statements in support of the board action by members DeNiqua Matias and Kahlil Rashidi were read by Perello.
Board president Rashon Hasan, viewed as an Anderson ally, and member Rashied McCreary did not join their colleagues in condemning the superintendent and the man who appointed her, Gov. Chris Christie. McCreary is a teacher at the KIPP charter school chain; charter schools have been major beneficiaries of the public school closing and student dispersal plan Anderson called “One Newark.”
The board members, led by Perello, expressed increased frustration with the chaos that attended the opening of school under the “One Newark” plan earlier this month. She cited the problems at Barringer High School where many students have not received their schedules, classrooms are overcrowded and do not have enough chairs, uncertified teachers serve as instructors, and students have been denied food at lunch or breakfast, sometimes both.
“I was there,” said the school board member, “and I saw it.” She introduced three students from Barringer who recited problems at the school. On the last possible day of the last school year, Anderson fired Barringer principal Wayne Dennis, a man she had just hired the year before, someone who was considered an Anderson loyalist.
Perello said Anderson has been lying about the conditions of the Newark schools and dismissed her claims about a peaceful opening “a fairy tale.”
Baskerville-Richardson said she believed school board policies could not be arbitrarily repealed by Anderson on her own. She distributed copies of policies requiring students to be placed in the school nearest their home.
“We, the majority of the members of the Newark Board of Education, cannot and will not act as if what is happening to our schools is normal. It is abnormal, it is perverse, it is not to be tolerated, and it must end now.”
She called on state Education Commissioner David Hespe to intervene and direct Anderson to comply with school board policies. Hespe, who had served earlier as education commissioner, was widely viewed as someone who would curb Anderson’s excesses. But, after misleading many in the city about removing Anderson–including Mayor Ras Baraka–Hespe offered Anderson a three-year contract renewal. He has done nothing to restrain her and her plan and he even showed up on the first day of school to praise her.
Board member Philip Seelinger contended the schools had been taken over “by crazy people” and called for Anderson’s ouster. Donald Jackson referred to the “One Newark” plan as “this monster that divides our community.”
Lewis pointed out that, 10 days after school began, many children still have not found places in schools. He said Anderson was operating the school system “illegally.”
Although opposition to Anderson by the school board is not new, the City Hall press conference was important for two reasons. The first was the effort to find new grounds to block “One Newark”–in this case, the policies that contravene Anderson’s plan. Baraka, a consistent critic of Anderson, could cause substantial problems if he began invoking strict compliance with fire codes in the schools.
Members of the board cited support form Baraka and noted that Lauren Wells, the mayor’s chief school policy adviser, had been “helpful” to them.
The second was the broad diversity of the groups and communities represented by the board members and other speakers. Representatives of all wards there, black and white, and it showed that opposition to Anderson was not limited to one area of the city. Unions and parent and student groups also were represented.
Baskerville-Richardson, a former school board president, said the exact shape and timing of the legal challenge to Anderson still had not been decide but would be soon.
“We can tell you it will happen as soon as possible,” she said.