Acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe has suppressed a report critical of how the Newark schools have been run by Cami Anderson. The controversial Anderson was appointed the state school superintendent for Newark by Hespe’s boss, Gov. Chris Christie, in 2011. Anderson, once a campaign worker for former Newark Mayor Cory Booker, presided over a chaotic school opening in September and recently admitted her tenure had failed to raise achievement levels in many of the city’s public elementary schools.
State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), the co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools, told a news conference a few days ago that he knows the report exists, he knows who wrote it and is demanding that Hespe make it public. Hespe has been playing a two-faced role with Anderson in Newark–privately criticizing Anderson yet publicly supporting her and keeping her in a $300,000 a year job.
“We know the report exists and we know it is negative,” said Rice. “We also know who generated it.”
Rice said he could not reveal the author of the report because that would be “violating confidences” but he promised that, if his committee receives subpoena power from the Legislature, he will subpoena the report and make it public.
Rice’s contentions were back by a prominent Newark clergyman who attended Rice’s news conference. Bishop Jethro C. James, Jr., president of the Newark/North Jersey Committee of Black Churchmen, said he was personally assured by Hespe that the state education department would conduct an investigation into Anderson’s operation of the Newark schools.
Bishop James said he and other members of the city’s clergy had been instrumental in the drafting of a letter–eventually signed by 77 ministers–that warned of the “catastrophic” consequences of Anderson’s plans. The bishop said Hespe met with a number of the ministers and “thanked us” for the letter and promised he would address their concerns.
“A number of us met with him and he told us he was concerned about what happened and that he would have his people look into it,” said the bishop, who is pastor of Paradise Baptist Church in Newark.
“Then we heard such a report was created but, when we asked him about, he said no such report existed.”
Sources from within both the state education department and the Newark Public Schools administration have said Hespe sent staff members to Newark for several weeks both to shadow what Anderson was doing and to prepare a report on her effectiveness as superintendent.
Hespe had promised such action when he met with Anderson’s critics, ranging from then newly elected Mayor Ras Baraka to union leaders to the church leaders. Reports were that the investigation into Anderson’s behavior was run by Catherine Coyle, a former assistant school superintendent in Jersey City and director of a so-called RAC–or Regional Achievement Center. RACS are offices of the state education department that are supposed to help school districts comply with federal school law.
If, as suspected, Coyle is the author of the suppressed report–as well as Rice’s source–her report would create some problems for Hespe who has ignored federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. RACs are charged with ensuring districts comply with NCLB.
Hespe, a lawyer, has covered up much of what has been happening in Newark, including allowing Anderson to close public schools and open new charter schools without following state and federal laws and regulations.
At his press conference, Rice said he wanted the power to compel testimony in order to make Hespe and Anderson’s activities public. Rice already asked state Senate President Steve Sweeney for subpoena power last spring but Sweeney, a close ally of Christie, ignored Rice’s request.
Rice said he was more confident now that he would be able to obtain the power to require Anderson to appear before his committee because of the problems associated with the so-called “One Newark” enrollment plan and continuing problems arising out of a chaotic school opening this year.
Rice had demanded Anderson show up at his committee meeting four times–and four times Anderson refused. He accused her of “thumbing her nose” and “insulting” him, his committee and the entire Legislature.
“The Newark public schools are in crisis and families, students, and members of the community deserve answers regarding the serious issues that are plaguing the district,” Rice told the news conference in Newark.
He has introduced legislation that would constitute his Joint Committee on the Public Schools as a special committee to investigate the Newark school district “and all issues concerning its ability to ensure students a thorough and efficient education.”
The Joint Committee on Public Schools was created as part of the state school takeover law and was designed to ensure legislative oversight over state-operated school districts. So far, the state has taken over the Jersey City, Paterson, Newark and Camden public schools.
The Christie Administration, however, has all but ignored the joint committee’s work and the panel has been unable to garner support from Christie’s Democratic allies in the Legislature, including state Sen. Theresa Ruiz, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Sweeney. Sweeney is widely regarded as the tool of George Norcross, the political boss of South Jersey. Sweeney, Christie, and Norcross have conspired to bring privatization to the underfunded Camden schools. Ruiz is considered a tool of fading Newark political boss Steve Adubato, a charter school entrepreneur, and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, a Democrat who betrayed party gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono to support Christie backed . Possibly in return, Hespe recently gave DiVincenzo’s inexperienced son a $92,000 a year job in the state education department.
Rice said Hespe and Anderson have ignored legislative and regulatory requirements regarding the operation of the Newark schools and even of Anderson’s contract. The senator contends her most recent contract extension–done despite Hespe’s private assurances ehe would not be reappointed–was illegal.
“We are being duped,” Rice contended.