The Newark school board Tuesday night voted unanimously to freeze the salary of state-imposed superintendent Cami Anderson. It also passed a resolution making it more difficult for her to boycott board meetings. Finally, in what might be the only resolution to have an impact, the board rejected an effort by Anderson to spend $1 million in private funds to evaluate the labor contract she reached with the Newark Teachers Union.
The votes, which displayed the now near-unanimous contempt the board feels for Anderson, were largely symbolic. Although the board technically has fiscal control of the city school system, its members are unclear how they can use it.
“We really don’t know how to go about exercising that right,” says member Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, pointing out that, while Anderson has lawyers working for her, the school board does not. “No one is giving us a lot of help.”
Gov. Chris Christie, who appointed Anderson, has dismissed virtually any effort by the popularly-elected board to assert control, declaring, “I am the decider.” The schools, running a deficit of nearly $100 million, have been under state control since 1995.
If nothing else, the three anti-Anderson votes showed the depth of frustration the board feels about how badly Anderson engineered the opening of school this year and the pollyannish media tour she has conducted, trying to persuade the rest of the state that her wildly disruptive “One Newark” plan for closing neighborhood schools and launching new charters has been successful when it clearly has not.
As usual, Anderson did not show up for the public board meeting, but sent underlings to carry the message of just how successful she has been. One of them, Gabrielle Wyatt–mimicking her boss’s actions from February–walked off the stage at the First Avenue School in anger when board member Marques-Aquil Lewis said, “She’s not telling the truth.”
Contending the sessions have been disruptive, Anderson stopped attending public board meetings despite provisions in her contract requiring her to meet with the board. She has attended a number–but not all–of so-called business meetings where public participation is strictly limited. Board members see what she is doing as a ploy to make it appear she is meeting with the public when she really is not.
Lewis tried to break that ploy by introducing a resolution opening up the business sessions to public participation. If Anderson attends, she will face the same angry parents she once faced before her own personal boycott began last February. That resolution passed six to none with Rashon Hasan, the board president, abstaining.
Hasan contended the resolution should have been “vetted” by a board committee. However, he is generally seen as an Anderson supporter and appeared with her at a press conference to praise the “great” opening of school this month, a view considered, at best, delusional by a substantial number of parents, teachers, and students who have been protesting what they call the “chaos” of Anderson’s administration. The parade of horror stories about 60-student classes, no cafeteria food, and missing textbooks continued last night.
Hasan, however, did join in another of Lewis’s resolution, recommending that the school system stop paying Anderson because she refuses to meet with the panel. The resolution would cut her salary until she resumed attending the meetings. She makes nearly $300,000 a year and is regularly granted bonuses.
The board president, who works for the Prudential Insurance Company, cast the only vote supporting Anderson’s efforts to spend $1 million on a consultant to evaluate the contract between her and the NTU.
“We need the money to spent on children–on textbooks, on desks–not on consultants,” said Lewis. Board administrator Valerie Wilson and counsel Charlotte Hitchcock pressed the panel to support the expenditure.
The money for the evaluation will come from the Fund for Newark’s Future FNF, the private recipient of the $100 million Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg awarded to Newark three years ago in a widely televised–on the Oprah Winfrey Show–big wet philanthropic kiss to former Mayor Cory Booker who now, somehow, is a US senator. Board members–and outside organizations–have criticized the arrangement because none of it is subject to public scrutiny.
Hasan raised the possibility that the arrangement might create a conflict because FNF is funding a key provision of the controversial contract–merit pay for teachers. Still, he cast the sole supporting vote. DeNiqua Matias abstained, and Baskerville-Richardson, Lewis, Donald Jackson, Khalil Rashidi, Ariagna Perello and Philip Seelinger voted against it.
There was no indication whether Anderson would ignore the vote against the evaluation, but Hitchcock contended refusing to go through with it might subject the district or the board to litigation.