Newark voters go to the polls Tuesday to elect three members to the city school board, officially known as the “Newark School Advisory Board.” That’s about the last simple, commonsensical thing that can be said about the election. It all goes south from here–starting with knowing the school board has little power to do anything.
Mayor Ras Baraka has endorsed a “unity slate” that includes a pro-charter school candidate (Kim Gaddy); a once anti-charter candidate (Leah Owens) and a North Ward political figure (Tave Padilla)– because all unity slates apparently have to have a North Ward figure in them.
The unity slate is getting big money backing from pro-charter groups, especially the Parent Coalition for Excellent Education (PC2E), run by a guy named Muhammad Akil who has an interesting past that includes once being the chief of staff to Steve Fulop, Jersey City’s mayor, and saying unfortunate things about how all white people have a little Hitler in them. Read about Akil’s past here and here and here.
Baraka is sometimes pro-charter–as in his Feb. 1 letter to Gov. Chris Christie in which he agreed the city’s traditional schools would have to face flat funding so that charter aren’t hurt by state aid cuts. That position is not to be confused with this other statement in which he denounced such a funding scheme as “irresponsible.” To steal from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: So it goes.
Leah Owens worked for an organization called NJ Communities United that, once upon a time, helped the Newark Students Union close down the city several times. She was opposed to charter expansion. Now she is pushing for, and is on, the unity slate and, one supposes, hopes her running mate Gaddy wins. So it goes.
NJ Comnmunities United endorses Owens but not Gaddy. It is funded by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a powerful public employee union.
This does not make the fellow labor organization, the Newark Teachers Union, very happy. Owens was once a teacher and active NTU member who was part of an insurgent slate trying to get rid of the current NTU president, John Abeigon. Abeigon likes to point out that Owens also was once a colleague of former Newark superintendent Cami Anderson at Teach for America. Recently, the NTU refused to support a CWA-backed march on city hall. So it goes.
But—BUT–the NTU is backing Carole Graves, a former long-time NTU president, for a seat on the board. She, too, is opposed to charter expansion–although she doesn’t really talk about it much. Her campaign literature also says she endorses Ras Baraka’s plans for education, even though Baraka sometimes endorses charter expansion and also endorses the unity slate that has one very pro-charter candidate on it. So it goes.
Another slate includes Sheila Montague and Jason Dotson and it is called the “transparency slate.” Montague also says she endorses a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools but the point doesn’t come up much in her campaign material.
In fact, to be fair, almost no one running for the school board talks about charter schools very much. Why? Because most people are afraid of the kind of clout and money that organizations like PC2E have. So everyone in the election sort of pretends the question of whether state money should go to charter schools rather than traditional public schools isn’t really much of an issue–although, in fact, it is the most important issue in the election. So it goes.
Instead, everybody talks about the return of local control. Supposedly, something called the Newark Educational Success Board is trying to find an answer to that but, sadly, it won’t come in time for today’s election. All the candidates also are against lead-contaminated water, but not much is done about that, either.
It looks very much as if Cerf, who works for Chris Christie and not for the school board or the people of Newark or its advisory board, simply is doing whatever he and the governor want him to do and school board elections are not terribly important to him. Indeed, the board’s meetings are regularly canceled so that Cerf doesn’t have to go out at night in Newark and listen to people who don’t like him say they don’t like him–see note about Jimmie White below.
There are other candidates. Jimmie White is one. He was once was dragged out of a public school board meeting for demanding that Cerf be dragged out of a school board meeting. I am not endorsing Jimmie White. I am not endorsing anyone. But at least White did something indicating he was not holding two contradictory positions at the same time. Another candidate is Jody Pittman, a pro-charter parent whose supporters say she is being treated unfairly by groups like PC2E; I’m sure she is but she wouldn’t talk to me about that.
Here’s something I don’t understand: How can pro-charter candidates run for positions on the Newark public school board while anti-charter candidates cannot run for positions on charter school boards? Gaddy and her supporters can make the city school board a tool for charter enrichment–but the city school board can’t seize charter trustee boards and turn them back into, well, public schools.
Answer: It doesn’t make any sense. Second answer: It has to do with money and whoever has the most, wins. So it goes.
The other candidates are Thomas Ellis, Tamara Moore, Juan Silva, and George Tillman. To read the statements of all candidates, got to the website for the Newark Trust for Education at http://www.newarktrust.org/meet_the_candidates_2016.