Newark soon to be overwhelmed by charter expansion: Welcome to New Orleans on the Passaic

The result of the Christie/Baraka deal: The inevitable expansion of charters
The result of the Christie/Baraka deal: The inevitable expansion of charters

The Newark public schools will soon be overwhelmed by a vast expansion of privately-run charter schools–the inevitable result of the deal that was supposed to bring local control to Newark’s schools. The national chain of  KIPP schools today announced plans to open five new charters to add to the eight already operating in Newark. The hybrid Brick Academy schools–Peshine and Avon–are expected to seek designation as charter schools in the spring. And  Uncommon Schools–operating as NorthStar–is seeking city approval to use former Star-Ledger land to build a new charter school.

When all the new charter schools are opened, a possible majority of elementary school children will be placed in these privately-operated, publicly-funded schools backed by hedge fund and other Wall Street money. The dwindling number of the city’s traditional neighborhood schools will become the warehouses for the children with special needs and other problems that the charters won’t–or can’t–accommodate.

The joke's on YOU, Newark--you thought you were getting local control. What you're getting is control by charters.
The joke’s on YOU, Newark–you thought you were getting local control. What you’re getting is control by charters.

Education will become–in the words of John Abeigon, the president of the Newark Teachers Union–warned the system will become one based on chance.

“Why must we gamble with a child’s education?” he asked. “Why must parents gamble through a lottery to provide their child a decent education in this city?”

The expansion of charter schools means a concomitant reduction in aid to children attending conventional, neighborhood public schools. Indeed, the former state-appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson, admitted the district’s current budget crisis was caused, in part, by the transfer of state aid from public schools to privately-run charters.

The firing of Anderson was part of the deal reached in June between Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. Supposedly, Christie promised a return to local control after 20 years of state control–but he demanded that Christopher Cerf, once Christie’s education commissioner and a national champion of charter schools, replace Anderson.

Crowds like this one last May could have sunk Christie--instead Christie got peace and Newark's charters got a future.
Crowds like this one last May could have sunk Christie–instead, in a deal with Baraka,  Christie got peace and Newark’s charters got a new future.

The Christie/Baraka deal also created a committee without power or legal authority, the so-called “Newark Educational Success Board” (NESB), that is supposed to write a “road map” to local control in some distant future. The panel, dominated by pro-charter members appointed by Christie, has met only three times. At one meeting, state officials said the district could be years from assuming full control.

In reality, of course, the future already has been determined–and the expansion plans of Newark charters show what that future will be: Thanks to Gov. Chris Christie, the deal with Baraka and Cerf’s appointment, Newark is well on its way to what former mayor, now US Sen.,  Cory Booker, wanted it to be, the charter capital of New Jersey.

New Orleans on the Passaic River.

What is so sad about the new rush of charter school plans is that they are coming just at a time when the city seemed on the brink of foiling Christie’s plans to privatize Newark schools.  An uprising in the city, led by its students and supported by its leading political figures, was close to creating a world-class headache for Christie who pretends he can be president.

But the opportunity was flushed down the sewers in a deal that seemed to good to be true–because it was just that, too good to be true. Focusing on the hated Anderson missed the bigger picture–the privatization of Newark schools led by Cerf, Christie, and Booker.

Baraka meets with Christie: Who were the real "crackpots"?
Baraka meets with Christie: Who were the real “crackpots”?

Baraka has attacked critics of the deal–including this site and  Abeigon, calling them “crackpots.” In the months since the deal, Baraka has become increasingly pro-charter. He toured the city, handing out backpacks and other supplies to school children. The publicity stunt was financed by pro-charter organizations that helped fund opposition to Baraka during the 2014 election campaign.

The mayor has so far said nothing about the Uncommon Schools plan to build a new school on former Star-Ledger land near City Hall.

The Newark Teachers Union has called for a candlelight vigil Monday–when the planning board is expected to meet on the issue. Abeigon has called on Democratic politicians to support neighborhood schools against the expansion of privately-run charters, but the money is clearly behind the charters and their operators, some of which run for-profit private corporations.

Ironically, during last year’s campaign, Baraka called the pro-charter money going to the candidate who opposed him “a former of money laundering.” Now, however, he has taken a friendlier tone toward pro-charter forces and Cerf himself.

The NTU has tried to persuade the city’s central planning board to block approval of construction of an Uncommon Schools charter on a tract of land at Washington and Court streets that once was the parking area for The Star-Ledger, a newspaper that moved out of Newark after nearly a century of operation in the state’s largest city.

The planning board postponed consideration of the charter school chain’s (it operates NorthStar) plans until Monday night, Oct. 19. Abeigon wants teachers from Newark and throughout the state to come to City Hall Monday at 5 pm to show their opposition to the expansion plans.

The KIPP expansion plans were announced in a press conference attended by supportive Democratic politicians. The charter school’s supporters said the expansion would add more than 5,000 new students to the charter rolls–5,000 few public school students.

Meanwhile, administrators at the Brick Academy Schools–Peshine and Avon–have told staff members the schools are  planning to seek a change in their status to become charter schools.

Dominique Lee, an entrepreneur and former Anderson associate who runs the Brick Academy Schools under a “memorandum of understanding” also followed by charters, refused to respond to three calls from this site asking him to comment on their plans to become charters. Abeigon confirmed, however, that teachers have been told of plans to become charterized.

The continuing sharp decline in public school enrollment–nearly 20 schools have been closed in the last few years–will result in less money for the neighborhood schools, accelerating a cycle that results in more school closings, more charter schools, and the eventual creation of an apartheid system of education in New Jersey’s largest city.

In the past, charter supporters have scoffed at the idea they want to destroy public education by replacing it with privatized schools operated by private, charter management organizations. But New Orleans recently closed its last public school in a district that is now completely charterized. Closer to home, supporters of charter and voucher schools in Camden have predicted that system also will be replaced by privatized institutions.

If Newark’s plans for charter expansion go ahead, it could mean the death knell, not only for neighborhood public schools, but also for the teaching profession as it operates now and it most other cities and towns. Charter schools do not offer the salaries, benefits, or job protections offered to unionized public school teachers.

Indeed, the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)–now headed by Shavar Jeffries who ran against Baraka in 2014–has called teacher unionism a dam that “must be burst” so schools can be reformed.

“The quacks and profiteers behind ‘education reform’ and so-called “choice” will argue that teacher seniority puts the brakes on student achievement,” said NTU’s Abeigon. “But how can that be true when every performing district in this city, in this state, in this country, and in the civilized world has teacher seniority protections, contracts, and teachers unions?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 comments

  1. Bill Wolfe

    Bob, you have absolutely nailed it here.

    I can’t imagine the anger and frustration of the Newark people who fought so hard, only to have been sold out by the Baraka – Christie deal.

    It’s beyond sad and tragic, verging on pathos.

    Time now to do and ideological expose of the roots of Neoliberal austerity and an in depth comparisons with New Orleans: from elite entrepreneurial TSA types; destruction of public housing; racial cleansing; gentrification; promotion of real estate and corporate interests; no unions; precarious low wage employment; to the City as playground for tourist and other wealthy folks seeking “culture”: Life in the Neoliberal City.

    Note the Friday NJ Spotlight forum on cities – that should tell you all you need to know.

  2. Abigail Shure

    All that remains is to say Kaddish (the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead) for the Newark Public Schools.

  3. Bill Chappel

    The Corporate Oligarchy will now make enormous profits from education. In addition, they will now brainwash children into becoming little Republican worker bees and cannon fodder. George Orwell’s 1984 is coming only a little later than expected.

  4. thetruth

    Here is something I also posted on NJ Spotlight today:

    I am fearful for of what the Newark schools will look like in the future as the planned destruction of Newark’s real public schools is carried out and charter schools take over. Here is some of what I fear:

    1) These are not real public schools. The citizens of Newark will have no say in how these schools operate. The boards that operate them are not elected by the citizens of Newark. It is a take it or leave it situation at these schools and if you do not like it, you will have to move on since you have no voice in how they operate. You have had your right to elect a board of education stolen from you by people from outside of Newark that you don’t even know.

    2) There will be 100 different schools going in 100 different directions–again, if you don’t like it move on because there is nothing you can do about it. You have no voice. If they decide to eliminate music, visual arts, athletic teams, too bad because you have no say in how the school operates.

    3) There will be no traditional neighborhood public schools. Neighbor will be pitted against neighbor in a competition to obtain entrance into what is perceived as the best school. This is what they call so-called “choice”. This so called “choice” nightmare is not necessary in the wealthy suburbs because in the suburbs all schools are good neighborhood schools. In Newark, the real public schools are being starved of resources (new buildings, technology, supplies etc) and the Charters seem to have unlimited resources. This is all part of the planned destruction so that the citizens of Newark are left with no real “choice”.

    4) Public tax dollars will be going to privately operated charter schools in which the public has no say in their operation. How is it possible that our tax dollars are going to entities in which the public has no vote in how they operate?

    5) With the destruction of real neighborhood Public Schools, there will be buses traveling all over the city to deliver children to their assigned charter school. Families will wake up at 5AM to send each of their children in a different direction to get to school and then hope they all return from their journey safely at all different times.

    What a nightmare! Someone better wake up before the planned destruction of real public education in Newark is completely carried out. The citizens of Newark should be voting on all this instead of having it rammed down their throats by private interests. Yes, back in May they had it right when they took it to the streets and marched down Broad Street to protest what is taking place.

  5. Public Education Supporter

    I see how many people read this blog and I just hope that EVERYONE who reads it will be at City Hall on Monday. It’s not going to be easy to recreate the energy we had last Spring – people are burnt out and bitter over Christie wiggling out of danger just when it looked like this story might make national news, but somehow people have got to keep fighting. See you Monday…

  6. Ron

    Bob,

    The Star Ledger Editorial page is ecstatic over KIPP coming to Newark! You worked at the Ledger, what is the editorial board smoking? How can they be do delusional?

  7. Bea Alano

    You said “The quacks and profiteers behind ‘education reform’ and so-called “choice” will argue that teacher seniority puts the brakes on student achievement,” said NTU’s Abeigon. “But how can that be true when every performing district in this city, in this state, in this country, and in the civilized world has teacher seniority protections, contracts, and teachers unions?”, but according to the Northstar site their schools are academically outperforming those “unionized” regular public schools.
    Can you comment on “unionization “? Can it thwart prog r essential in I urge schools?

    Bob Braun: NorthStar has a magical solution to student performance: It sheds poorly performing students. Look up what Bruce Baker and Mark Weber (Jersey Jazzman) say about the issue. It’s a little like congratulating Princeton for having so many smart students when all it admits are smart students.

  8. walt sautter

    “t could mean the death knell, not only for neighborhood public schools, but also for the teaching profession as it operates now and it most other cities and towns. Charter schools do not offer the salaries, benefits, or job protections offered to unionized public school teachers” – don’t you kinda think that was the plan from the get go? – privatization for political “friends and family”.

    Bob Braun: Certainly in places like Newark and Camden, it was. Simply listen to Cerf’s rants about the unfairness and political power of teacher unions and you will hear a man who is convinced the problem isn’t the inability of schools to overcome entrenched poverty and inequality, the problem is unionization generally. But if you take what you call the “get go” all the way back, you will see the ancestors of charter schools in the American Federation of Teachers “more effective schools” plan that was Al Shanker’s response to battle pay for teachers in the neediest neighborhoods.

  9. ALLEN PATTERSON

    Please don’t be surprise to learn that charter schools and their parent companies have gone public on the stock market to increase owners’ equity and profitability.

  10. ALLEN PATTERSON

    Bill Wolfe, I agree with you. I cannot believe the degree of separation from the candidate mayor Ras Baraka to becoming mayor and now is quite mute on his position. Notice, whenever he speaks about local control, he is very mindful of his tone (less radical) because he knows that his every word is being monitored . My opinion, his political capital is damaged: crime is rampant, increase in taxes (6.7% to 9%), no new revenue, giving tax abatements to those who contributed to his campaign, and the promise of local control will not be what the citizens expect.

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