The Newark school board today is formally asking the state Board of Education to immediately fire Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent of Newark schools. The petition says Anderson has been “fiscally irresponsible” and has “betrayed the public trust.” The local board charges Anderson, a former campaign worker for once mayor, now U.S. Sen., Cory Booker, has made the schools in the state’s largest school district worse than they were when the state took them over 20 years ago.
The Newark board’s request comes in the form of a formal petition seeking Anderson’s “termination for just cause.” It is signed by all members of the board, including two who often side with Anderson. (A draft copy of the petition is printed below). Two members of the board–Ariagna Perello, its president, and Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, a former president, are scheduled to present it at a public hearing of the state board this afternoon in Trenton.
Although Anderson was named by Gov. Chris Christie, the state’s takeover law gives the formal appointment power to the state school board. Technically, the state board could–if it wished–dismiss Anderson immediately.
But that’s only technically. In fact, the state school board–once a strong, independent voice for public schools–is now an extension of Christie’s political views and is not likely to consider the petition seriously. The board already has acted to muzzle public criticism of Anderson; on May 6 at the last state board meeting, it blocked public discussion of many of the same complaints about Anderson by forcing state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), the chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools, to lead a presentation to a closed, “executive” session of the board where no press or public were present.
When asked who decided to force Rice to speak to an “executive session,” Mark Biedron, the state school board president, responded: “I’m not going to answer that question.” The state education department still has refused to provide this site with documents detailing who made those decisions about Rice’s presentation, despite a request filed under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) a month ago.
Christie has appointed six of the 11 members of the state school board and they all are financial contributors to his campaigns and/or other Republican causes. They do his bidding. Although statutes put the state school board in charge of public education in New Jersey, the real power rests with the governor and governor’s political appointee as state education commissioner–now, South Jersey lawyer David Hespe.
Hespe has proven to be a faithful servant to his master by changing his mind about educational issues whenever Christie does. The latest example was the Common Core Curricular Standards, which Christie now opposes after first endorsing them.
A recent legal decision by Hespe shows the likely fate of the petition against Anderson. The commissioner ruled Anderson could boycott meetings of the same board that now wants the state board to fire her. She hasn’t attended a public meeting of the board in 17 months–and that boycott is one of the charges against her contained in the Newark board’s petition.
The others include:
—Payments of more than $12,000 to Anderson’s former assistant superintendent and long-time associate Tiffany Hardrick after Hardrick left Newark for a job in Arkansas. A state audit contended the payments were illegal.
–The use of Anderson’s “One Newark” enrollment program to illegally place special education students in schools where there are no programs for special education students.
–The failure of Anderson’s hallmark educational reform–the so-called “Renew Schools” to improve learning outcomes for students.
–The placement of hundreds of teachers in so-called “rubber rooms” where they are paid but not given permanent school assignments. The board charges Anderson wasted $27 million last year on such “educators without placement”, or EWPs, and is spending $20 million this year, despite a deficit that is expected to hit $75 million.
–Anderson’s appointment of former close associates, many with little experience, from the New York City schools, Teach for America, and New Leaders, to high-paying administrative jobs, without notifying the board.
–The boycott of school board meetings.
–Anderson’s attacks on personnel, including the dismissal of attendance counselors despite soaring absentee rates (while reporting 100 percent attendance rates to the state) and misuse of the tenure law to fire teachers.
The text of a draft copy of the petition follows:
We, the undersigned members of the Newark Board of Education, do hereby petition the New Jersey State Board of Education to use the power vested in you by the State of New Jersey to immediately remove State District Superintendent Cami Anderson from the position of State District Superintendent. “Termination for just cause shall be defined as inefficiency, incapacity, or conduct unbecoming a superintendent or other just cause pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:17-20.1.” Examples and documentation of inefficiency, incapacity, and conduct unbecoming a superintendent are inclusive of, but not limited to the following 10 offences against the children of Newark:
- State District Superintendent Cami Anderson blatantly disregarded both Statute and District Policy by paying former Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Hardrick an amount of $12,115.05 for 18 sick days taken in June 2014, despite Hardrick’s employment in the State of Arkansas during the month of June 2014. The allegations, background, findings, and conclusions are detailed in the State of New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance, Newark Internal Audit Unit Tiffany Hardrick Complaint Investigation completed in September 2014. (Exhibit 1)
2. State District Superintendent Cami Anderson, blatantly disregarded the findings of the Department of Education’s Investigative Report Regarding Former Newark Public School Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Hardrick, when, on May 18, 2015, Anderson signed off on, and thereby approved, a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) which stated that former Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Hardrick had returned to the District a requested amount of $2,243.59. Under the authority of the State District Superintendent, this CAP was presented to the Newark Board of Education at its May 19, 2015 business meeting, although said CAP did not call for full restitution of, or even mention the $12,115.05 that former Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Hardrick was paid for 18 sick days taken in June 2014, despite evidence in the Internal Audit findings verifies that Hardrick was employed as a school superintendent in the State of Arkansas for the month of June 2014. (Exhibit
3. State District Superintendent Cami Anderson, blatantly disregarded the findings of the Department of Education’s Investigative Report Regarding former Newark Public School Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Hardrick, when, on May 26, 2015, at the school board’s regular meeting, a revised CAP was presented on behalf of Anderson. The revised CAP determined that request had been made of former Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Hardrick to make restitution of an additional $5,201.44, which, when added to the original amount of restitution, $2,243.59, totals $7,445.03. $7,445.03. equals the net, not the gross, of the $12,115.05 illegally paid to former Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Hardrick for 18 sick days taken in June 2014. No mention was made in the revised CAP of the $4,670.02, which, when added to the $2,243.59 received and the additional requested restitution of $7,445.03, totals the gross of $12,115.05 that was given to former Newark Public School Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Hardrick. State District Superintendent Cami Anderson has not requested full restitution for monies illegally paid to Tiffany Hardrick. This lack of action is in blatant disregard of fiduciary responsibility vested in the Office of the Superintendent, and is in clear disregard and violation of Newark Public schools Policy FILE CODE: 3000/3010 CONCEPTS AND ROLES IN BUSINESS AND NONINSTRUCTIONAL OPERATIONS;GOALS AND OBJECTIVES, Fiscal Management (Exhibit 3) (Exhibit 4)
4. State District Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark Plan has forced placement of special education students in schools without the services and supports required by students’ IEPs. Numerous examples of such violations, including placement of emotionally disturbed students in a school without a Behavioral Disabilities program, placing Learning Disabilities-Severe Freshmen in a school without a program to service their needs, lack of aides for autistic students and other increasing violations, exacerbate the level of non-compliance with IDEA and federal guidelines, and set Newark Public Schools up for failure. A chronological description of such violations at just one school is detailed by Central High School Principal Sharnee Brown in a recent letter to State District Superintendent Cami Anderson. Similar disparity is also evidenced in some schools in programs for English language learners. (Exhibit 5)
5. State District Superintendent Cami Anderson’s Renew School conversion strategy has not improved student outcomes. Evidence of this failure was presented to this body (the State Board of Education) in a comprehensive body of testimony by former Newark principal, Dr. Leonard Pugliese, here in Trenton, on May 6, 2015. Achievement has in fact dropped in her renew schools, where no benchmarks were met. All student proficiency rates in the converted schools fell below 50%. In 13 out of 16 comparisons, student proficiency rates actually decreased after two years of Renew School conversion. None of the Renew Schools met the NJASK academic progress targets in LAL for school year 2013-2014. All 26 subgroups failed to meet the NCLB waiver LAL academic progress targets. None of the Renew Schools met the NJASK academic progress targets in MATH for school year 2013-2014. All 30 subgroups failed to meet the NCLB waiver MATH academic progress targets.
6. During the course of her tenure, State District Superintendent Cami Anderson contributed directly to the current budget deficit via the creation of the Employees Without Placement Pool of professional certified educators (EWP,) most of whom were displaced as a result of the Renew Schools process. The Newark District budgeted approximately $10 million for both the 2012-13 and the 2013-14 school years, but actual costs for each year exceeded $20 million, with an actual cost of $22,573,340 for the 2013-2014 school year. The final cost will again exceed $20 million for the 2014-15 school year. A May 2015 report released to Newark Public Schools principals lists 193 teachers in the EWP pool – and this list accounts only for excessed teachers. Principals, Vice-principals and former department chairpersons have also been excessed. (NPS Source)
7. During the course of her tenure, State Superintendent Cami Anderson hired numerous senior and executive level staff, promoted and/or changed job titles of numerous executive level staff, resulting in lucrative salary increases for said executive level staff. There has nonetheless been a high turnover of senior and executive level staff over the past 4 years. Neither the school board nor the public are notified of high level personal hires or separations, although the school board and the public have made and continue to make exhaustive requests to be notified of senior and executive level personnel changes and changes in organizational structure. There is no system in place to communicate major staff changes to the school board, thus creating an awkward and unprofessional situation where school board members are forced to inquire as to who new senior and executive level staff are. School board members are therefore greatly hindered in their ability to fulfill their obligation to observe and advise regarding the operation of the Newark District.
8. State District Superintendent Cami Anderson has not attended a meeting of the Newark Public Schools Board of Education since January of 2014, and has been unavailable and unresponsive to inquiries from the school board or concerned residents made at school board meetings. Therefore, neither the board nor concerned public have had any direct report from the State District Superintendent on district plans, programs, business, or progress for over a year.
9. Over the course of the last four years, State District Superintendent Cami Anderson has systematically dismantled the structure of the Newark Publics Schools District, but has failed to replace it with a model that is functional or one that results in increased academic achievement for the neediest students. For example:
- State District Superintendent Cami Anderson disbanded the Office of Attendance and eliminated attendance counselors, as part of her “Attend Today Achieve Tomorrow” attendance improvement plan. This program is a dismal failure. The District’s own data shows that over 50% of Newark Public Schools elementary school students were chronically/severely absent in the 2013-14 school year, up 3 percentage points from the year before. 77% of Newark Public Schools’ comprehensive high school students severely/chronic absent in 2013-14, up 5% from the year before. (Exhibit 7)
- State District Superintendent Cami Anderson utilizes arbitrary and capricious methods for evaluating teachers and teacher tenure, resulting in a fearful and intimidating workplace environment for the teachers of Newark’s most challenged children. The following is but one example: an April 20, 2015 NJSpotlight article highlights State arbitrator Tia Schneider Denenberg’s assessment of the conditions under which Newark Public Schools teachers are recruited, (not) supported, evaluated and penalized. Regarding the 13th Avenue Renew School, and the Newark District’s tenure charges against teacher Rinita Williams, Denenberg wrote, “Teachers were recruited hurriedly and thrust into conditions that bordered on chaotic. Key curriculum materials were not even shared with teachers until mid-January – that is, after the observations of teacher Williams had been completed.” She referred to the evaluation process as “arbitrary and capricious…” and concluded “…that all charges against the teacher must be dismissed.” (Exhibit 8)
10. Most telling is the current state of affairs in comparison to the conditions that existed prior to State Takeover. If the State Board of Education would care to review the extensive findings of the New Jersey State Department of Education’s Comprehensive Compliance Investigation of July 1994, which precipitated the State Takeover of the Newark Board of Education, you would find that many of the areas of review which were deemed acceptable prior to State Takeover, have regressed under the administration of State District Superintendent Cami Anderson.
In summation, we request the immediate removal of State District Superintendent Cami Anderson, because:
- She has betrayed the public trust and is unable to carry out the normal responsibilities of Superintendent. She does not exhibit the level of organizational skills, management skills, communication skills, sensitivity, or commitment necessary to lead the Newark Public Schools.
- Early in 2014, she abandoned, and refuses to reinstitute, direct contact with the Newark Board of Education and concerned Newark residents at school board meetings. She is unresponsive to normal and necessary requests for information.
- She is responsible for illegal payments made to former Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Hardrick and for a CAP and a revised CAP, neither of which address full restitution of the gross illegally paid to Hardrick.
- She fiscally irresponsible. She is responsible for the current Newark Public Schools budget crisis which is a direct consequence of her creation of the EWP pool via Renew Schools, forced charter school enrollment via the One Newark Plan.
- She continues to force reforms without regard for negative outcomes, student needs, law, or policy, with a particularly detrimental effect on comprehensive high schools, Special Needs students and English language learners. Student absenteeism is at crisis level, and her Renew Schools have failed to meet academic benchmarks.
- The broad base of constituent groups in Newark have been negatively affected by policies and practices of State District Superintendent Cami Anderson over the past 4 years, and have, via local, state and national level meetings, press conferences, town hall meetings, letters, petitions, op eds, demonstrations, walkouts, and votes of no confidence, expressed the need for a new Superintendent of Newark Public Schools. The Newark community has neither confidence in nor respect for the level of leadership demonstrated by State District Superintendent Cami Anderson. The examples that have been cited her today are but a sampling of the injustices heaped upon our children. The broad spectrum of Newark residents want schools that are safe, comfortable, inclusive, that offer every child a vigorous academic learning experience, that nurture civic pride and engagement, that educate the whole child and guide and support families towards a brighter future. Cami Anderson’s strategies have failed. She is unable and unwilling to work with the Newark parents and the education community. It is time to remove her. We urge that you take a stand, that you do not sit by silently, that you exercise the power vested in your office to do what the Newark Board of Education under State Control cannot do – remove Cami Anderson immediately and work with the Newark community to identify a suitable Superintendent for the Newark Public Schools.