“One Newark” plan faces legislative investigation

State Sen. Ronald Rice
State Sen. Ronald Rice

The co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools last night said he would pursue an investigation into possible abuses tied to state control of the Newark schools. State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), who already is pursuing legislation aimed at blocking the closing of neighborhood schools in the state’s largest city, said he would seek subpoena power if state officials continue to refuse to provide him with information.

“Let me assure you I will be calling for an investigation into the operation of the Newark district,” Rice said at the close of a two-hour hearing in Newark City Hall about the so-called “One Newark” plan that would close, transfer to charters, redesign or otherwise “repurpose” more than a third of the schools in the state’s largest city. He predicted state education officials and Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent, would probably not show up to answer questions.  “If they continue to refuse to respond, then we will have to begin to demand they give us answers. We will ask for subpoena power.”

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey

The hearing was conducted by the Legislature’s Black Caucus. Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), who chaired the session, promised additional hearings.

“We’re going to have to have an investigation,’’ said Jasey, who said she expected two or three more hearings.“We’ll have to start asking questions” of state officials.

The hearing in the Newark City Hall’s council chambers, brought out critics of educational policies pursued by Gov. Chris Christie, particularly in urban districts under direct state control.  It ended with Donna Jackson, a community activist, pointing to the legislators and blaming them for failing to look into state control of Newark.

“You have allowed this,” Jackson all but shouted at the legislators. “You guys have to come in here and take some action.” She said she blamed former mayor, now U.S. Sen. Cory Booker,  for bringing in Anderson, a woman who worked on his mayoral campaign.

Many of the complaints have been heard before  but the hearing was significant because it brought out organizations that have been relatively silent on the growing concern about the privatization of public schools, especially through the vast expansion of charter schools.

The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), which has said little about the growing privatization movement, sent a vice president, Marie Blistan, to the hearing. She told the legislators, “It is clear that what the Christie Administration and the Departmentof Education are attempting to impose on Newark is just the beginning of an assault on the very principles of public education across the entire state of New Jersey.”

Joyce McCree, the president of the NJEA’s small affiliate in Newark, used ever stronger words, contending the Christie administration was “engaged in a systematic campaign to undermine, demonize and ultimately privatize schools.”

Early on in Christie’s first term, the NJEA had challenged the governor’s anbti-teacher position but then backed away in the face of his constant attacks. The union even ended up endorsing one of Christie’s major privatization efforts—the so-called Urban Hope Program—that has opened the way for South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross to control privatized schools in Camden.

Norcross’s efforts were criticized by Gary Frazier, a Camden activist, who told the hearing about the political boss used public school land to start a charter school. Frazier described how the city put off building a needed new school and then finally turned the property over to Norcross and the KIPP charter schools. “What is happening to Camden residents is unconstitutional,” said Frazier.

Daryn Martin at the front door of Ivy Hill--now he has been arrested
Daryn Martin at the front door of Ivy Hill–now he has been arrested

Some of the hearing was dedicated to efforts by Anderson to stifle dissent. One witness was Daryn Martin, the president of the Ivy Hill PTO who was first banned from entering the school his children attend and then charged with aggravated assault and jailed for a day on a complaint for Newark assistant superintendent Tiffany Hardrick. Martin told of how he tried to stop Hardrick and another central office staff member from tearing down notices of a parent meeting.

Several witnesses provided evidence that reforms in Newark were not working. Lauren Wells, an NYU faculty member who is now an adviser to mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, pointed out that schools slated for “renewal” by Anderson had actually done less well than conventional schools.

“Studies examining turnarounds, called here in Newark ‘renew,” find that firing teachers and replacing them does not improve instruction,” she said. (Earlier version said “now” instead of “not”. My bad. Sorry).

Rutgers researcher Mark Weber contended Anderson had provided no evidence her plan would improve schooling for the affected children.  “We are not able to find any evidence that would justify the closings, charter takeovers, and “renewals” under the plan,” said Weber, a doctoral student at the university’s graduate school of education and a popular educational blogger known as “Jersey Jazzman. “Why, then, does NPS believe One Newark will do anything to improve district efficiency or student achievement?”

The senior attorney for the Education Law Center, Elizabeth Athos, said the “One Newark” plan already violated state regulations requiring school districts to have updated long-range facilities plans before they could close schools.

“These are not just paper regulations,” she told the legislators. “They should be enforced.”

John Abeigon, the executive director of the Newark Teachers Union, described the intricate funding some charter schools pursued—with corporations with the same principals involved in complicated borrowing practices to raise money to buy public school property. He called on the legislators to investigate the “Pink Hula Hoop” controversy in which a number of closely related corporations ended up with a profit-making company buying the 18th Avenue School  at a discounted price.

In addition to Jasey and Rice, the other legislators who attended the hearing were state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chairman of the Senate Education Committee; Assemblywoman and former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex); Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-Essex); Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumer (D-Passaic); Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-Essex);  Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Essex), and Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex).

7 comments

  1. Source1

    Congratulations and thank you to all the legislators who were present last night. A special thank you to Senator Rice and Assemblywoman Jasey for their willingness to take on this fight on behalf of public education advocates.
    It is my hope that these hearings will expose Superintendent Anderson and others who stand to profit from the privatization of public education in this country.

  2. Julia Sass Rubin

    Gary Frazier’s full testimony about Camden:

    Good evening, My name is Gary Frazier I am a social community activist in the City of Camden NJ. I am also a member of Save Our Schools NJ as well as CEO and founder of the grass roots organizations, We Are Camden and The Camden Comeback.

    Tonight, I would ask if this hearing body could share with me a moment of silence for the untimely death of Camden’s very own Cea President Lavern Harvey, for her tireless efforts and commitment to her staff our teachers and students in the Camden City School District.

    In 2010 our current Mayor, Dana Redd took the reins in Camden as its Mayor after stepping down as a Senator and it was at that time the City of Camden was to entertain in the 2013 election a vote for an elected school board initiative. Our city was in fact under state intervention at which time the (Rac) Regional Achievement Center, were brought into the district as late as October 2012 to develop a strategic turnaround plan for the district. With bills floating around the Assembly such as 1877 we clearly saw us winning the full house vote on that but also saw the construction of the Urban Hope Act (3173) swiftly come roaring thru our city which was orchestrated by George Norcross and carried out by His brother Senator Donald Norcross, Assemblymen Whip Wilson and Angel Fuentes and signed into law by governor Chris Christie.

    The target was placed on Lanning Square School, a thriving traditional school that had suffered some sort of structural damage causing the displacement of many of our black and brown students for decades. We have now seen the completion of the Rowan Medical Center which is awaiting Kipp/Norcross a private entity who intends to now build a Renaissance School with dorms claiming this is what our residents wanted and indeed giving first preference to our residents but under false pretenses. Our residents live in the district what do we need dorms for?

    We see this site being used for children inside our district as well as outside the district to attend as their parents attend the Medical center. Many of those children formerly residing in that district have either relocated or went on to graduate. Proof of the petitions submitted for the proposal by those applying and the petitions we have are identical in signatures as we too gathered signatures for a traditional School to be rebuilt. Our residents were led to believe a traditional school was to be built when in fact a circulation for a renaissance petition was what our residents were signing. As we know during then, former Governor Corizine’s administration, the funds were set aside and the site was ground shovel and ready to go. It was the SDA who advised us that the BOE in Camden had to do its part to see the traditional school rebuilt.

    What is happening to Camden residents is unconstitutional as we were not being given the opportunity to fair and equal democracy as our neighboring districts and cities throughout NJ. Violations of the sunshine law continue to go unaddressed as we plead with those in leadership positions to allow the residents due process and democracy.

    Currently Camden is under State control in which the Urban Hope Act is towering over us. This was orchestrated by George Norcross and carried out by His brother Donald Norcross and Assembly men Whip Wilson and Angel Fuentes and finally made into law by Gov. Christie. We experienced the same brick wall when we gathered the amount of signatures to have it placed on a referendum to allow the residents of Camden to decide what type of policing we wanted for us and our children. Our Mayor Dana Redd sued the court clerk for approving our petition and her administration to recuse them from voting on the matter. Yet the Mayor, freeholder director Lou Cappelli and again Senator Donald Norcross have conspired using their elected positions to strip away our rights to vote on these matters that directly and indirectly affect us as residents claiming that we elected them to do the day to day daily operations for our people.

    We won the matter in federal court via 3 Federal Court Judges and yet the current administration views our issues as Moot issues. When will Camden residents be given the right to democracy as other across our state and across our Nation? We took a further initiative for non partisan elections in the city of Camden in which the County Democratic Committee sent some 7-8 circulars to the homes of our residents confusing the residents telling them that the republicans were trying to take over our city and to vote no on the non partisan initiative to give us as residents fair and equal elections like everyone else.

    To label us as the most dangerous city in the Nation, To tell us that only 3 of our children are college ready is as repulsive as allowing a bill to be passed stiffening laws on The new founded drug known as “Wet” but nothing in the bill to rehabilitate those whom are being effected by the actual drug.

    The administration says they cannot kick the can down the street or arrest their way out of the problem but no jobs have been brought into the 64% poverty stricken city nor a tax revenue to balance the budget relieving the heavy burden of those whom are our voters and tax payers .

    There is currently nothing in place that deals with properly transitioning ex-offenders back into our society nor hopes for gainful sustainable employment. All employment opportunities are based on education in which there is a dire need for residents to be trained or retrained.

    Quality education disrupts the cycle of poverty in which our children are doomed to enter if not provided the proper resources and adequate education which is their right and not for political gains. Thank you for your time this evening,

    Sincerely,
    Gary C. Frazier Jr.

    Source: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=785918694824077&id=1402423336674417&notif_t=like

  3. Pingback: NJ Legislators Plan Hearings into Christie Plan to Privatize Newark Public Schools | Diane Ravitch's blog
  4. Pingback: NJ Legislators Plan Hearings into Christie Plan to Privatize Newark Public Schools | Educational Policy Information
  5. DA

    Bob keep on reporting and keeping the public informed. This is truly upsetting creating a boarding school in Camden brought me chills. I work with many Native American tribes across the nation and this particular Camden testimony reminded me of the many Native American assimilation boarding schools across this nation; which was a very similar process. This as we all understand is based on money, power, greed, and the assimilation of Latino and African American children. It is time for everyone to UNITE and not let this happen to our children and nieghborhoods!

    Keep peeling the carpet Bob!

    Report on the Nepotism it will help Daryn’s case!

  6. Pingback: News Roundup & Open Thread for Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 - United Americans

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