Newark’s shameful response to Cerf’s charms and lies.

PULSE's Sharon Smith demanding answers.
PULSE’s Sharon Smith demanding answers.

There was a time–just a year ago–when the way a parent activist like Sharon Smith was treated at Tuesday night’s Newark school board would have caused a storm of protest. But that was before the city’s mayor, Ras Baraka, cut a deal with the governor to allow a national advocate of privately-operated charter schools to become the city’s state-appointed school superintendent. Now Smith–and many others–have been silenced through the charms and lies of one man, Christopher Cerf. Silenced and marginalized.

Not to mention  co-opted and bought out.

Just in time for that governor, Chris Christie, to try to gut the school district by reducing state aid by 70 percent–while increasing state support for public schools in nearby and lily-white Essex Fells by 1,225 percent. Essex Fells–with its $175,000 annual median family income–compared to $39,000 in Newark.

Tearing the heart out of the public schools while saving charter schools from reductions. Charter advocates now hold virtually every top position in the Newark Public Schools–according to the organizational chart Cerf published.

But  did Cerf or anyone on his staff or the Newark school board mention Christie’s class and race war against the people of New Jersey’s cities? Did Cerf or anyone on the staff or board mention how Christie would save charter schools while destroying public schools?


Cerf just spouted on about the “great progress” Newark has made  “in the last five years”–the years of Cerf and his hireling and protégé, Cami Anderson, now safely ensconced in her own consulting firm.  He called it “building on the progress” since 2011–and not one person raised even an eyebrow to wonder how disasters like “One Newark, ”  the vast expansion of charter schools, and the sale and closing of public schools, continuing today, could conceivably be called “progress.”

While members of the public spoke, Cerf checked his email or whatever else he keeps on his smart phone. The only exception was when Denise Cole rose to speak--he left the room.
While members of the public spoke, Cerf checked his email or whatever else he keeps on his smart phone. The only exception was when Denise Cole rose to speak–he left the room.

And , after that, while members of the public spoke, Cerf busily checked his smart phone for the latest email messages–or whatever else he keeps on his handy-dandy little portable distraction, undoubtedly paid for by Newark residents.

Oh, yes, there was some criticism and that brings us back to how shabbily Sharon Smith was treated. She, with co-founder Johnnie Lattner, started the organization Parents Unified for Local School Education, or PULSE. Over the last few years, while parents and children and school employees became increasingly angry about the state’s destruction of public school schools in the city, PULSE did something about it.

It filed a civil rights complaint with the US Education Department, contending that the policies of Cerf–as state education commissioner–and his agent in Newark, Anderson–violated the civil rights of the children of Newark. The department’s Office of Civil Rights did, in fact, conclude that the negative impact of Cerf/Christie/Anderson plans fell most heavily on black and disabled students. This is what I wrote last December:

Specifically, the Christie Administration’s regime in Newark—run by former state education commissioner Christopher Cerf—must:

  1. Assess the academic impact on children who were forced to transfer as a consequence of closing or otherwise changing the operation of a public school.
  2. Determine whether children have been adversely affected by the transportation required by the enrollment practices, including their ability to participate in extracurricular activities.
  3. Determine whether schools—including charter and other privatized schools—actually were prepared to receive the children affected by the mass transfers; if any children were not properly served, any damage to their educational careers must be remediated.
  4. The district also must review the placement of special needs children and determine whether any were hurt by failing to provide proper facilities. Those adverse effects also must be remediated.

Last month, Lattner tried to talk about what happened to all of what Cerf must do to identify the harm and remediate the problems. He was stopped then by Charlotte Hitchcock, Cerf’s lawyer, who, sadly, engaged in legal semantics to deny the feds had any concerns. This month, Smith rose to demand information.

“This is about correcting the harm that the district has caused to thousands of Black and Latino children of Newark,” Smith said.

Smith pointed out the investigation resulted in an agreement binding on Cerf to reveal the harm and correct it–and to do it by June 30.

Charlotte Hitchcock: NO, you can’t have any information.

Hitchcock rose again to the defense of the man who just renamed her to the position of chief counsel.

“There was never a negative finding,” she said.

Hitchcock was talking about a formal finding–there were indeed factual findings of negative impact on the city’s children. But, instead of being straight with Smith and the other parents in the room, she retreated to legalese and Cerf, himself a lawyer, made it happen. Allowed it to happen.

That’s a little like denying a street shooting is really a murder, because no jury has yet handed down a verdict. But the person is still dead.

And then Hitchcock and then added the final insult: There won’t be any public release of information.

When Smith tried to ask another question, she was told there would be “back and forth” discussion.

No “back and forth discussion” about what Cerf and Anderson did to thousands of Newark children? This is what he called “building on the progress” earlier in the meeting.

Shamefully–let’s put that in caps–SHAMEFULLY–the school board that was elected to represent the hurting parents and children of Newark stayed silent. Yes, board member Leah Z. Owens generally called what was going on in Newark examples of “institutional racism,” but she said and did nothing else.

Less than a dozen protesters tried to call out Cerf's lies and charms--but they were gaveled down by the board presidents, a woman who was once herself a protester. But things change.
Less than a dozen protesters tried to call out Cerf’s lies and charms–but they were gaveled down by the board president, a woman who was once herself a protester. But things change.

A group of ten  parents, activists, and students mounted a brief demonstration until Cerf told Board President Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson that, “I will not tolerate this” and she obediently gaveled the room to order. Big change in her attitudes.

Baskerville-Richardson, once the hero of the effort to protect children from the predations of state masters, was generally silent. Her voice for justice is missed.

And her silence makes her complicit.

Because everyone just wants to get along now. Especially those board members with City Hall jobs. And those who are seeking higher office in the future. A good part of the anti-state movement has become part of the Ras Baraka political machine.

The kids can wait. They’ve waited for decades already. And it’s just so much nicer now to sit back and listen to Cerf talk about the progress he and Anderson accomplished.


  1. The parents of NJ Communities were also present with a small group of students, and educators making demands around local control now, community schools, and the resignation of Christopher Cerf.

    Bob Braun: I’m getting to that. There were 10.

  2. As a teacher in the district- cutting the funds may not seem like a bad idea. I have seen the way money is spent in a school. The principals and their clerks over see how money is spent. I have personally seen equipment and supplies come into the school and hidden from the teachers or disappear from the school entirely. Supplies are give to either the teachers that have drank the Kool-aide and relatives that work in the school.
    I hear give Newark back to the people, with some of the neighborhood schools, the people are in control not the board.
    As per special Ed students, their names are put in a fishbowl and pulled out. Good luck! Special Ed classrooms have no air condition, paint chipping off the wall, unsafe for some of the students that are placed in the rooms, and goodluck if to the parents that are told Los-leading information to the parent.The department of early childhood picks and chooses what schools and classrooms they visit. Students with special needs being pushed along so some supervisors and administration doesn’t have to work too hard.

    1. Don’t judge every school by your own personal experience. All the schools I have been in spend every cent on the kids and wish they had more! Views like yours, based on misinformation and limited knowledge of all schools and their budgets, perpetuate the damage being done to school budgets and the image of educators. Budget cuts don’t just effect supplies, they also will effect you.

  3. […] Newark, the education movement against privatization and state control has now just become part of the Ras Baraka political machine, Bob Braun says, with some of the best voices that led that movement co-opted and marginalized. […]

  4. Time to refile an OCR complaint.

  5. Where is the Education Law Center? Nothing will be solved until NPS and Christie have lawyers on their backs. Hopefully the ELC will wake up and come to the defense of Newark’s students.
    Also parents of special needs students find legal representation for your children !!! There should be a massive class action suit against NPS for violating the educational laws and policies of the special needs population. Get thee to a lawyer!

    1. I have been the general education teacher in many IEP meetings. Parents are offered a booklet detailing their legal rights, but the district counts on the parents not reading it in its entirety, if at all. It’s sort of like your 40 pages of info explaining what is and isn’t covered under your renters or homeowners insurance. The district then can say, “They were informed of their rights.” The reality is that they are counting on the parents NOT knowing their rights. Even if they do know their rights, lawyers cost money that many Newark families simply can’t spare. To glibly suggest they get a lawyer is harsh. It’s something NPS might say.

      1. They can call rutgers law school and get a free one.

  6. Mr Braun, maybe you’re on summer hiatus but your thought-provoking posts are missed!

    Bob Braun: I am but I will be back soon.

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