Newark schools: Hespe flouts law, Baraka wants action, zip happens

Ras Baraka: Still trying to get it done
Ras Baraka: Still trying to get it done

Acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe continues to refuse to enforce the law requiring the state to act aggressively in improving conditions in the state-operated Newark schools—and Mayor Ras Baraka, for at least the third time, has demanded Hespe’s “immediate intervention.”

The mayor wants the unabated chaos at Barringer High School corrected—but he also is seeking help for at least 27 other schools.

“Students continue to attend classes that exceed class size limitations, are placed in core content areas with uncertified staff, and do not have textbooks,” Baraka wrote about Barringer in a letter to Hespe. “Additionally, there are serious concerns that special needs student are not receiving the services specified in their individualized education plans (IEPs) and Limited English Proficient (LEP) students do not have appropriate placements.

“Many students at Barringer High School have completely lost an entire marking period of instructional time and learning as a result of these intolerable conditions. There are numerous violations of district, state, and federal regulations and policies.”

David Hespe
David Hespe

Students and parents have complained about conditions at Barringer—which opened in September as two schools, neither of which had  a principal—but Cami Anderson, the state-appointed schools superintendent has refused to open the schools to public inspection. Even when Baraka himself visited the school in October, he was not allowed to bring in the media.

The issue at the core of the dispute between Baraka and the administration of Gov. Chris Christie goes far beyond the disastrous problems at Barringer, the city’s oldest high school. It has to do with the state’s refusal to follow state and federal law that requires efforts to improve education before Anderson can go ahead with her plans to close more public schools and launch new privately operated charter schools. She already has decided to press ahead with more closings and more privatization—but the list of public schools targeted for closing has not been released.

If, as Baraka and others have repeatedly pointed out, Anderson and Hespe refuse to follow the law, then her “One Newark” plan is illegal. The Education Law Center, a public interest law firm, already has accused Anderson of breaking the law and several suits have been filed to force Christie’s surrogates to obey the law. State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), the co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools has demanded an investigation of Anderson’s failure to comply with the law.

The lawsuits have sought to block the implementation of Anderson’s “One Newark” plan until she and Hespe abide by the law. So far, however, both have ignored the law—and repeatedly ignored demands by Baraka and others for school improvements.

This is what the law requires—if schools are designated as “priority” or “focus” schools, then the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as well as state regulations, require the state to provide “intensive intervention…to improve student performance, through improvement plans and supports, and ongoing progress monitoring.”

The state established so-called “Regional Assistance Centers”  (RACs) that were supposed to complete a review of each school’s performance and develop and implement a school improvement plan.  Anderson has done none of that—and the RACs have not done anything for the city schools.

“The deplorable conditions at Barringer High School are the responsibility of the state,” Baraka wrote. “Students at Barringer High School have lost far too much instructional time and have been subjected to learning conditions that, in the 21st Century, no student should endure.”

Copies of the mayor’s letter were sent to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan as well as other federal and state officials.

Baraka had earlier asked for President Barack Obama’s intervention in Newark–but there is no indication of a response.

  1. Someone needs to do a PBS (Maybe Frontline) EXPOSE on this! Publicity is sorely needed. Let’s see how much Christie likes that!!!

  2. Thanks, Bob, for keeping us aware. Have your readers seen Cami Anderson’s October letter linked on C Cerf’s NJ Spotlight 12-2 OpEd?
    -How pitiful that she has to solicit friends to defend her “work.”
    -15,000+ school districts in the US and this is what NJ gets for its largest district? At $251,000 salary?
    -Why don’t J Klein & C Cerf hire her at Amplify?

  3. Calls should be for Hespe’s resignation not his intervention.

  4. This is where our country is headed. Bob, these exposes are extremely necessary for we the uninformed public. Why is this Govenor spending time in Newark? During a National Holiday? Is this a public opportunity to have pictures taken of his good nature in order that he be elected President of the United States? If so, where was pictures of his wife that go with these type of pictures?
    On a national scale you have enabled Newark to be a flash point on how to take this battle to the corrupt leaders of a state with your exposes of these corrupt individuals.
    Today Divencinzo asks for Casinos be brought to Newark. While our Mayor is asking that our schools be saved from the corrupted. Our Senator calls for accountability laws be passed specifically for Cami Anderson. Divencinzo wants more crime for Newark. Cami wants institutional poverty for Newark. Hespe wants uneducated citizens for Newark.

    Impeach the Govenor.

  5. The mayor is not stepping up! He is asking all the wrong people to do the right thing. It is time for him to play politics and that means doing what is necessary not asking people to do what is morally correct. unfortunately The people in charge are quite aware of what they are doing and don’t care. There is a plan for newark and the mayor as its residents aren’t part of the plan.
    Being mayor today requires accessing lawyers that can help him accomplish small goals. For example He should shut down barringer based on fire codes. Students are roaming hallways, or are grouped in mass in a gym that is your legitimate violation. The powers in charge are playing a game and the mayor is asking to sit at the table. This is never going to happen. Moreover this is a national problem which is approved by Obama so I doubt he will help.

    1. You are right. The Mayor isn’t demonstrating the full recognition of his executive power. There is no love loss between City Hall and the governor’s office. The mayor must begin applying political pressure, or as Cami, Cerf, and Christie like to say, “make the hard decisions” to advance progressive reform.

      Has anyone noticed that without City Hall’s support, the buying program is significantly less prevalent than it was at the beginning of the school year?

      Step up and play real politics, City Hall.

      1. I meant to write busing program, not buying program.

  6. Newark the state-out-of-control district.

    The Mayor will realize he will have to take this to the streets to win. Letters are not working it would seem.

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