Newark school board meeting Tuesday–more outrage?

Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson
Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson

The last meeting of the elected Newark school board erupted in boos and catcalls when state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson stormed off the stage, closely followed by her senior staff. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at the Rafael Hernandez school in the North Ward and, already, tension is building—with the board president saying Anderson should expect “outrage” in the face of her attitude toward the city’s residents.

“State superintendent Anderson: You own this situation. For the third year in a row, you have forced your plans on the Newark community without the measure of stakeholder input that anyone, lay or professional, would consider adequate or respectful,” wrote Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, the board president. She called on Anderson, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie, to impose a moratorium on her plan—called “One Newark”– to close neighborhood public schools and expand charters—or resign.

“You are obviously painfully aware of the depth and breadth of community discontent,” Baskerville-Richardson wrote.

It is a measure of the gulf between Anderson and the board that each has a different name for the panel. The board refers to itself as the “Newark Board of Education” while Anderson refers to it as the “School Advisory Board,” or SAB.  When the state took over the district in 1995, the law it invoked change the traditional name of the board.

The board is elected–but it has virtually no power.  It is powerless to stop Anderson’s “One Newark” plan.

The latest exchange between the board and Anderson was provoked by a  letter from Charlotte Hitchcock, the attorney for the school administration, to the board president. She cited the uproar at the last meeting—Jan. 28—and suggested Baskerville-Richardson was at fault for failing to control the audience, many of whose members spoke out against Anderson and her “One Newark” plan.

“On behalf of the District, I am writing to respectfully request your cooperation to ensure that the appropriate decorum and adherence to District policy are met during the upcoming School Advisory Board Meetings (SAB) and thereafter,” Hitchcock wrote.

“In particular, I draw your attention to the inability for the Superintendent to present her presentation to the audience at the last two SAB meetings due to continual inappropriate behavior caused by several audience members. Such conduct rendered it impossible for any member of the community to receive information about the District directly from the Superintendent.

“As is the distinct design and purpose of the SAB meetings, it is the opportunity for the community to learn from the Superintendent about the plans and course of activity for the District. Thus, within your role as Board Chair, I encourage you to fulfill your responsibility, to the best extent possible, to maintain order and an environment whereby all voices and perspectives may be shared in a respectful manner.”

About two hours into the meeting, a Newark parent, Natasha Allen, referred to “brown babies” and asked Anderson whether she didn’t want for her child what Newark parents wanted for theirs. Anderson, the mother of an inter-racial child, reacted angrily and walked off the stage. Baskerville-Richardson kept the meeting  going. Baskerville-Richardson said the walkout was planned:

“You made no attempt to make your presentation at the January 28th meeting. You chose to walk off the stage and exit the meeting prior to your presentation. Based on the precision with which you and senior staff abandoned the meeting, it was obvious that you planned to walk out of the meeting and that you simply chose the first opportune moment to do so,” Baskerville-Richardson wrote

She accused Anderson of scheduling the meeting at a school-First Avenue—that did not have enough room to fit the expected large crowd.  She accused he superintendent of forcing residents to stand outside in sub-freezing temperatures and failing to provide television feeds for the meeting.

“Given the scenario that the Newark community has experienced under your reign, how can you expect a reaction any different than outrage?  How can you have the best interests of children at heart when you exclude their parents from the planning and decision making process? How can you expect anything other than to be compared to your boss, Governor Christie, or for your actions to be compared to the aggressive bullying that the governor is famous for, exemplified in his ‘I control Newark schools, not them’ remark?

“I must ask the same question that others have attempted to ask you, with the hope that it will be accepted in the context in which it is asked: What would your reaction be, if you were removed from the decision making process about your child’s education?”

She cited the number of police officers in the auditorium, outside in the hallways and behind the stage curtains as evidence Anderson knew residents were angry.  She demanded to know who paid for the police—the school district, the city or “another funding source.”

She concluded: “I look forward to the day when we can concentrate on policies and progams that directly benefit our children. The rift between you and the Newark community can be resolved in one of two ways: a moratorium on the One Newark plan, followed by a process of inclusive comprehensive planning, or your departure from the Newark public schools district.”

The next meeting is not expected to be any calmer. Anderson is expected to push ahead with her plan—with some revisions. One of them is potentially explosive—layoffs of teachers to “right-size” the district. She indicated she would ask for a waiver, available under state law, to  bypass the seniority rights of teachers so she can retain younger teachers, many of whom were hired through the Teach for America (TFA) program she once led. She also is expected to hire new teachers despite the layoffs—and many of them are expected to come from TFA.

13 comments

  1. Dmc

    Calling on all employees from other state run schools to show up at Raphael Hernandez school on February 25 to show solidarity whether you are an affiliate of NTU, NJEA or other unions. Today it is Newark, Tomorrow it could be your school district. United we stand, divided we fall!

  2. Source1

    Thank God for the strength of Chairperson Baskerville-Richardson. Although the Chairperson may not have the legal authority, she certainly has the moral authority. God Bless You…..

  3. P. Grunther

    She schedules these meetings in a way so as to make people angry and then she knows she’ll have an excuse not to really discuss the issues and afterwards she can blame the “unruly crowd” and Baskerville-Richardson. She’s right in thinking that she needs police protection as she is doing everything possible in order to have an excuse to shove her Broad-Institute, Christie-inspired, privatization BS down people’s throats. I hope that hundreds and hundreds of people show up to that meeting…she should feel what it’s like to have an entire community against her since that’s what she’s actively seeking. Hope to see plenty of you there!

  4. Mr. Outside

    Smoke and mirrors. The district has a budgetary shortfall, a gap of approximately $59 million dollars. That is due to two specific factors. One is the decrease in federal funding and court restored aid; a figure of just over $11 million dollars. The other $48 million is an increase in spending; $33 million of which supports increased enrollments in charter schools throughout Newark.

    As a collection of schools, both neighborhood and charter, the “district” will be properly funded in spite of the gap. Whatever money NPS has available in the general fund, as much of it must support the [schools’] enrollment as possible. Otherwise it would be illegal. Period. What the deficit actually reflects is the negative operating margin the district administration will have to reconcile. Responsible strategic measures to reconcile that gap, could include the dissolution of the Office of Innovation and Strategy, the reduction in the number of “special assistants” on payroll, and a cessation in the hiring of Harvard educated, Teach For America baptized, NYC Department of Education carpet baggers. My apologies to carpet baggers.

  5. Janice

    Interesting .. I am assisting my niece & nephew in selecting a school via the One Newark website. I think its great that they will have the opportunity to attend a stable public school, whether traditional or charter. It seems the political hostility of the NPS situation has more to do with unions & admin officials. At the end of the day, a Newark parent should have the opportunity to send their child to a great school. Period. I hope their application goes through despite all of this political nonsense.

    • Tamob

      With the Universal Enrollment application you must list 8 schools. No one knows how the students are selected and placed into each school. Just because they tell you any child can go to any school, don’t be surprised when you end up at either the same school your child already attends or one at the bottom of your list. Yes, every child deserves to attend a good school, but why not make all public schools good. Failing schools are not failing because they have bad teachers. They are failing because they don’t have the same support systems in place that other, more successful, schools have. Charters do not educate students with special needs, behavior problems, or lack of parental support. Traditional publics schools do.

    • Source1

      Janice,
      There will be no great schools if Superintendent Anderson is permitted to move forward. Don’t be fooled by her rhetoric….

    • Becca Field

      No school in Newark can be considered stable under the One Newark plan. It appears Cami Anderson’s point is to destabilize the system by pushing through so much change at one time that no school is stable. How can a school be stable when the teachers and administrators do not feel respected and secure in their jobs? Perhaps some charters have a superior sense of stability because they are not subject to the capriciousness of Cami Anderson but charters show very high teacher mobility and student turn over as well. Do not equate choice with stability or success. This is a bad course we are on and must be stopped. Superior models for change and improvement exist.

    • Newarkbluesman

      When children are kicked out of charter schools the public schools will be there to help,Maybe.Public schools are the foundation of democracy.When you lose that battle,they will come for charters,then you will pay for a private education.

    • Mr. Outside

      Excited as you are to complete the One Newark application as you are, Have you read the whole document? There are several pages with school profiles to inform your decision and guide you in making you school selections. In each school profile, there is a column labeled “Performance.” Schools are designated “Falling Behind,” “On The Move,” and “Great.”

      These are your actual options according to the One Newark application. I suppose, to be fair to all parents they had to include schools that are falling behind, because just because some people want more for their “brown babies” doesn’t mean everyone does.

      The point is this. If you decide to be complicit with this charade of school reform, that’s fine. But you should be aware, what you dismiss as “political hostility” that “has more to do with unions & admin officials” is a dismissal of your own insolvent and responsibility as a citizen “assisting” students in the realization of their academic pursuits.

    • Tony

      I hope you are a real parent. If you are I hope I can persuade you into supporting public schools because they do work. The issue is money and the system that is being created is not one where the money will follow the child. I get it I have written a dissertation on parent involvement and your tired of not getting the best. You may even want to blame a teacher or two but I have to say if you lived in short hills or any suburban school district you would love it. Teachers are not dictated to and children get to learn. The moment your child needs help there are opportunities because of adequate funding that targets the child. Newark can have this too but the district spends so much money on new programs and on consultants. They may argue it is the unions fault and cry salaries are to high but have no qualms about hiring more managers or helping a friend come in as a consultant.
      In the coming years newarkers are going to be asked to make a choice. Why? Because you are poor. Because you are a minority. Notice that rich people don’t have to make these choices. They get great schools that often provide a private school education via public dollars.
      However choice is a word that should be met with caution. Choice is great at a supermarket. You can get a product you like after a couple of ventures. But a kid has only on shot at first grade. Can you really shop for this and say oops let’s change course when damage is done? Moreover is it really choice when your school is picked by the system of administrators that have failed you time and time again via corruption and ineptitude. Is it choice when you hope and pray that this school is better than the last? Is it choice when the funding is further diluted because now you have to pay for more management companies. I wish you the best in your choice. If it turns out positive then great. But just remember it may not be the same for everyone or yourself. There are winners and looser in choice but no one mentions this. If you doubt ask Arizona Chicago and other minority areas where choice has destroyed their children’s opportunities and research shows it does not work. Oh as for the union, ask yourswlf is it good public policy for more of our residents to be unemployed. After a decade of economic depression where newark has seen the crisis first hand is this what we need? More unemployment, more corruption, more failure. Enough give power back to children parents and teachers!

  6. Pingback: Forget It: Cami Will Not Back Down | Blind Noise

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