Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, saying the state administration of the city’s schools is operating “outside the rule of law,” has called on the people of his city to follow the example of thousands of protesting students and “use all possible avenues” to rid the school system of its state masters.
He stopped just short of using the iconic phrase “any means necessary” to eliminate the state school regime–but “all possible avenues” is close enough.
Baraka, citing instances of what he called “chaos, graft and mis-education,” repeatedly attacked Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent of the city’s schools.
But he only mentioned her name once, referring to her subsequently only as the SAS–state-appointed superintendent. In 2011, Gov. Chris Christie appointed Anderson, a former political operative for past Newark Mayor–now US Sen.–Cory Booker. Booker brought in Anderson and formed an alliance with Christie to make Newark a model charter school district for the state–and, perhaps, for the nation. Christie has repeatedly praised her. Christie’s state education commissioner, David Hespe, while assuring critics he is trying to curtail her abuses, has repeatedly praised her, awarded her bonuses, and extended her contract.
In response to demands from Baraka and others that Anderson be fired, Christie has rebuffed the city’s religious, political, governmental, and civil rights leaders, calling himself the “decider” who has decided to keep Anderson at the helm of a state-operated system that first came under Trenton control in 1995.
Although Baraka has repeatedly called for Anderson’s ouster, his letter bore new urgency–both because of events in the city and because of its tone and timing.
The letter follows a march by more than 2,000 high school students from City Hall to the ramp that connects Route 21 to all the major highways in the northeast part of the state–1 and 9, 22, 78, and the NJ Turnpike. The students could have paralyzed the state but they called off their “die-in” on the highway after less than an hour.
That march followed by a week another march in which Baraka himself participated. And his police department protected the dissenters, showing the mayor’s political and practical support of the growing movement.
But things have gotten even more tense. The principal of Central High School–a school once run by Baraka himself–released a letter accusing the state-operated district of breaking the laws protecting special education students. The open defiance of Anderson’s tactics by Sharnee Brown has been seen as a serious challenge to Anderson’s ability to remain in control of the district. If other principals join Brown in defying Anderson, she would be unable to enforce her plans.
At the same time, the Newark school board has been pressing hard on Anderson’s awarding of thousands of dollars to a close associate in the form of payments to the former assistant after she left the state for a new job. Board members believe she has regularly awarded close friends unrecorded raises, using private grants that do not appear in school budgets or financial statements.
Baraka’s letter lists examples of how Anderson broke the law or used her position to reward friends and punish political enemies.
He called on the city’s people to join in the fight against Anderson, pointing out the battle can no longer be left to outsiders. Baraka wrote:
“It is impossible for us to look this reality in the face and continue to be passive observers of the destruction of our district, misappropriation of taxpayers’ money, and violations of the rights of students and residents. It is time we make the community’s demand for the removal of the SAS heard and use all possible avenues to do so. I urge our community members: call the Governor’s Office, the State Board of Education, and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“We can no longer tolerate the idea that other people want more for the children of Newark than the people of Newark. Those who work for, believe in, and uphold the interests of the families of Newark need to do everything in our power to uproot this insidious notion from the efforts to transform public education in our city.”
The full text of his letter follows:
May 28, 2015
The facts can no longer be ignored. Our schools are being failed. They are not failing; they are being failed. Our schools have been attacked by a narrow reform agenda that amounts to nothing more than chaos, graft, and mis-education.
In 2012 State Appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson (SAS) brought Newark eight renew schools, which are now performing worse than they were before they were dismantled.
In 2014, the SAS brought us the One Newark Universal Enrollment Plan, requiring all students entering kindergarten, high school, and, where applicable, Sixth Grade, to participate in a city-wide choice plan. That same year, the SAS unilaterally closed three schools and reopened them as charter schools. She then announced seven more renew schools. The SAS recently declared, without any stakeholder involvement, the designation of 10 additional schools as turnaround schools.
Here is a picture of what our Newark Public Schools district currently looks like:
- There are 271 employees without placement, costing the district $22,573,340. However, there is a $70 million dollar deficit for 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.
- 60 percent of principals have been removed, replaced, or retired since 2011. Barringer and West Side High Schools have had a different principal each year and a teacher turnover of 20 to 40 percent annually.
- Chronic absenteeism is up and support staff in schools has been eliminated. The district, however, presents 100 percent attendance rate on state report cards.
- In 2012 there were 12 alternative education programs for overage under-credited students. Though we have 3,800 disconnected youth in our city, none of these programs remain.
- In 2011 there were 495 Ninth Grade students enrolled in Barringer High School. 235 of these students are currently seniors at Barringer and less than 100 qualify to graduate.
- As a result of One Newark there are an unprecedented number of special education students across the city enrolled in schools without the services to meet their needs.
- As a result of One Newark more English Language Learners across the city are in schools without the services to meet their needs.
- The State Department of Education has failed to implement the Regional Assistance Centers in Newark as determined for all of the 28 schools identified as Priority and Focus schools in the State-operated Newark Public School district, as required by the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) Waiver approved by the United States Department of Education on February 9, 2012.
- The SAS has refused to attend a Newark Public School Board meeting for 16 months.
- The district paid illegal payments to Dr. Tiffany Hardrick, while she was employed by a school district in Arkansas.
- The district has entered in numerous contracts with close colleagues and friends of the SAS.
These problems are the result of the failed leadership of the SAS. All of this has occurred with no community input or approval and with a complete absence of transparency about what is happening in our schools. The SAS is running amuck and operating completely outside of the rule of the law.
It is impossible for us to look this reality in the face and continue to be passive observers of the destruction of our district, misappropriation of taxpayers’ money, and violations of the rights of students and residents. It is time we make the community’s demand for the removal of the SAS heard and use all possible avenues to do so. I urge our community members: call the Governor’s Office, the State Board of Education, and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
We can no longer tolerate the idea that other people want more for the children of Newark than the people of Newark. Those who work for, believe in, and uphold the interests of the families of Newark need to do everything in our power to uproot this insidious notion from the efforts to transform public education in our city.
Last week our students organized the largest student protest of its kind in the history of our city. They realize their education and the future of our city is at stake. We must stand with our students and reclaim our schools. We must do it now.
Mayor Ras J. Baraka