(SEE UPDATED QUESTIONS BELOW) Don’t expect too much from Cami Anderson’s appearance Tuesday before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools. Although inept as an administrator and tone deaf as a person, Chris Christie’s agent in charge of Newark schools easily cons those who don’t know much about public education. She’s smooth–and, with the exception of state Sen. Ronald Rice, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, and Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, most of the panel’s members are either clueless or wedded to outsiders with angles to play (state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, Joe DiVincenzo’s woman in Trenton, and the Republicans who would sell their grandmothers to make Christie happy).
The committee members should be doing their homework, but most won’t–and, in any event, not a lot of material for homework exists. Main-stream media often ignore what Anderson does in Newark. She has manipulated funding–through the Fund for Newark’s Future, for example–to keep spending on consultants off the books and beyond the reach of laws like the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
And legislators, even good ones, are generalists whose knowledge of any specific topic is hardly more than one question deep. They are also partisans–so we know the Republicans won’t say or do anything to embarrass the presidential wannabe. Chris Christie, after all, said he was the “decider” for Newark–and he has decided to keep Anderson in the city despite deficits, falling test scores, embarrassing mistakes, division, and even threats to the health and safety of children.
What follows are questions that not only should be asked but also should be followed up with the kind of care and preparation good trial lawyers devote to cross-examination. But the first rule of cross-examination is awareness of what the witnesses’ answers will be– and that will require a deep knowledge of the subject. Here goes: 1. What have you done, Ms. Anderson, and what will you do in the next six months or a year, to ensure the return of local control to the Newark schools as required by the state takeover law? What is your plan for that return?
2. We’d like to take you back to the beginning of your tenure in Newark. You were brought on by then Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf whose consulting firm, Global Education Advisers, was paid $2 million to develop a plan for closing public schools and launching new charter schools. Could you tell us how much of that plan evolved into “One Newark”? In your discussions with Cerf and Gov. Christie, did you discuss Cerf’s plan and/or their plans to eliminate neighborhood public schools and launch new charters? What role, if any, did Mayor Cory Booker play in bringing you to Newark?
3. We are concerned that the personal and the professional are often confused in your operation of the Newark schools–that people you know personally somehow benefit from your position because you hire them or their companies. Although we will return to this question in a different contexts later, we’d like to start with where you live. Where do you live? Don’t give us an address, just the town. You have said you left Newark because of threats–did you ever report those threats to the police? Isn’t is true you lived in a home owned by De’Shawn Wright but had to leave when he returned to Newark? When you did leave, what role did Tim Carden, who heads TEAM Academy, and his wife Amy Rosen play in finding you a home through Steve Plofker who, as you probably know, is married to Bobbi Brown? Do you have an opinion as to whether your personal relationships with Carden and Wright might possibly represent a conflict of interest?
4. The Parthenon Group produced the algorithm for Newark’s universal enrollment plan that implements “One Newark.” Please provide a copy of the algorithm to the committee, along with an analysis of how it works and any evaluations of and answer the following questions: Please explain the business relationship among you as NPS superintendent, the NPS and the Parthenon Group. What services did they provide to NPS? At what cost? Who paid the cost? What was the relationship between the study of the Newark schools done by the Parthenon Group and the purchase of their algorithm? Why have you refused to make the algorithm public?
5. If you could fully implement the One Newark plan and other reforms you support, tell us what the district would look like in 5 years? How many public schools will be left? How many charters? What would teaching look like? Graduation rates? The distribution of special education students?
6. This past year, you gave raises of up to 80 percent for your top assistants, many of whom now make $175,000 a year–how do you justify the raises given to your staff when the performance of the overall district is not improving? How do you justify that in terms of the deficits you have faced? Can you explain why so many of your top assistants are people who worked with you in New York and other places and share many of the same resume points as you do–Teach for America, New Leaders, Broad?
7. On the subject of colleagues who share resumes with you, you recently asked the Newark school board to approve an increase in payment to an organization called Turnaround for Children, the CEO of which is Alison Avera, a former associate of yours both in Newark and New York. You asked for this increase despite the failure of Turnaround to help the so-called “Renew Schools” improve their student achievement profile. Why did you do that? Were the services provided by Turnaround the subject of bidding?
8. It also has been reported that Avera and her partner Tracy Breslin received more than $750,000 for their work in Newark schools. Could you explain that work? Why was it funded through the Fund for Newark’s Future?
9. Provide us with a list of all consultants, individuals as well as entities, that are currently receiving money for their work in the Newark public schools–with an explanation as to why such work could not be done by staff members. Please also explain how many of these consultants were hired through a public bidding process.
10. Please provide this committee with all documents relevant to this question: How has the “One Newark” plan affected transportation? How many more children need public transportation? What studies have you done on the impact of “One Newark” on the length of the “commute” children must make to their schools?
11. How many children who are Newark residents still have not been placed in Newark schools? How much instructional time was lost–and by how many students–because of the problems attendant on the first few weeks of class in Newark?
12. How do attendance and tardiness rates compare under “One Newark” with previous years? Have you analyzed those figures in relationship to the distance children must travel?
13. You designated some schools as schools that would be closed under “One Newark” and abruptly changed your mind. We have in mind the Hawthorne Avenue School. Can you explain how you made that decision and decisions like it?
14. How many neighborhood public schools will you close this year under the second year of “One Newark” and how many new charter schools–or “satellites” of existing charter schools–will you open? When will you inform the community of your decision this year?
15. Among the many groups you have laid off are technology coordinators? What is the readiness of the schools to implement PARCC? Will you be using computer-based tests or pen and paper?
16. You have taken pride in the number of administrators and others you have transferred out of schools–especially so-called Renew Schools–but can you tell us how you expect learning to go on in the midst of the chaos caused by frequent transfers of personnel? Specifically, please address what happened to the student Brenda Keith who apparently dropped through the cracks at West Side High School and later, after weeks of being missing, was found dead just a few hundred feet from the school.
17. How many instructional employees are designated “educators without placement,” or EWPS? What is the annual cost of keeping these teachers on the payroll without using them properly?
18. How many teachers are now teaching outside the fields in which they are certified? How do you plan to stop this obvious violation of state law and regulations?
19. Why did you fail to ensure that 28 so-called “priority” and “focus” schools in Newark–under the terms of the NCLB waiver received by New Jersey–would undergo an assessment by a state Regional Achievement Center (RAC) as required by law and regulation? SCIARRALETTER
20. Why did you fail to comply with the law requiring employee and community support for conversions to charter schools?
21. Your office has continually tried to use an obviously flawed interpretation of the TEACHNJ tenure law to fire experienced teachers despite repeated rejections of this view by state-appointed mediators. Why? What as been the cost in legal fees of these futile efforts? How did you arrange to have state education department employees take down information from its website that proved you were wrong? Can you explain the timing of the Peter Shulman letter that appears to be an obstruction of a legal process?
22. Before you began firing experienced teachers under this flawed interpretation, you attempted to decertify some instructors but were rebuffed by the state in that effort to strip teachers of their licenses. Why did you pursue that effort?
23. The parents of special education parents have complained their children are not receiving transportation for their children and that, in many cases, their IEPs have been changed without due process–or simply ignored. Are you aware that failure to follow individual IEPs is a violation of federal law? What do you know of these complaints and what have you done to correct these problems? Please provide us with an analysis of the special education problem, including numbers of how many IEPs were changed in the last year.
24. Can you tell us why special education students with the most needs have been assigned only to public schools and not to charter schools under “One Newark”?
25. The principal of one of two schools co-located within Barringer High School was fired just before school opened in September. The other quit. Barringer opened in the midst of “One Newark” chaos, not just without leadership, but also without adequate supplies and desks and palatable food for the children. Please explain to us how you let these problems happen and continue for months?
26. During much of the chaos caused by the “One Newark” plan, you were traveling–including one a day you were supposed to testify before this committee. Explain the importance of this travel to the children of Newark. Also provide this committee with information concerning who paid for these trips and whether they were authorized by the state?
27. How can you conduct business as the superintendent of the Newark schools when you refuse to attend Newark school board meetings? Explain to us specifically why you felt threatened by these words from parent Natasha Allen– “I’m trying to figure out, like, do you not want for your brown babies what we want for ours?” –and used them to stop attending board meetings.
28. Please provide documentation that every public school in Newark has a certificate of health and safety. Why do some schools–like Louise A. Spencer– not have them?
29. Can you explain why you are deliberately promoting charter schools–including assigning students to them whose families did not wish to be assigned–knowing such efforts would result in a loss of enrollment at neighborhood public schools and a reduction in state aid to those schools?
30. You designated the so-called “Renew Schools” reform as a centerpiece of your alleged reform attempts–yet those schools have failed to improve student achievement. Can you explain why? Will you now end that attempt?
31. Do you believe it was ethical to hire Amplify, a company headed by the man, former state education commissioner Christopher Cerf, who hired you for the Newark position?
32. Can you tell us why you insisted on hiring an organizatiion that employed your former associate Julia Phelan to provide additional, (not required) testing for English and language arts when the high school English teachers in Newark asked you to use the money to provide PARCC training to teachers?
33. Why did you sell the 18th avenue school to a profit-making company, Pink Hula Hoop, that had no experience in running a school?
34. Why did you sell the 18th avenue school to a profit-making company that can, in the future, sell off that land for private development?
35. Do you believe it was ethical to sell off public school property at less than appraised value to a close associate of yours and of Christopher Cerf, Tim Carden? Were you aware that a former mayor of Newark went to jail for allegedly selling off public property to a close associate?
36. Please explain how you believe helping former close associates like Tim Carden and Amy Rosen benefits the children of Newark?
37. Do you believe it is ethical to promote the private business interests of charter school management organizations and other groups you have helped receive funding and support in Newark?
38. Why did you support the award of tens of millions of dollars in state Economic Development Authority (EDA) to charter schools, some of which were run by your former close associates, when you remained silent when state School Development Authority (SDA) money for Newark projects was blocked by the governor?
39. Do you really believe in public education? If so, how do you explain all you have done in Newark to destroy neighborhood public schools and promote privatization in the form of expanded charter schools?
40. Why won’t you admit failure and resign?
41. How can Newark’s public schools, paid for by all the taxpayers of NJ under the Abbott rulings, be turned over to private companies? Do we get a tax reduction as a result? Where’s the Facebook money? How much of it was spent, and on what, and where’s the rest of it? What strings were attached to that money in the first place?
42. In the seniority waiver you submitted to the education commissioner last year, you expressly stated that the waiver would not violate teachers’ statutory tenure rights. in fact, however, your request would have violated tenure rights, which is against state law. Why did you make a false statement in support of your request?
43. Please tell us what has happened to the 18th Avenue School property since you sold it as discount to TEAM Academy.
44. Was Christie’s public bullying of student leader Kristin Towkaniuk last summer political payback for her activities in the Newark Student Union? Is Kristin (and others) on a watch list?
45. When the 2013-2014 NJ Ask data was released this fall why did you shut down schools’ access to this data? Have you released the raw data to the schools? When will you provide a full data report of district progress for every subgroup in every school?
46. Since you refuse to provide complete information on the enrollment and attendance patterns resulting from One Newark can you please explain your understanding of accountability and transparency? Can you explain why you think you are above any accountability to the tax-paying citizens of Newark?
47. Why, after five years, won’t you settle with local 617?
48. Why didn’t you work collaboratively with all stakeoholders on the development of the “One Newark” plan?
49. In trying to explain why elementary school scores went down last year, you put some of the blame on the transfer to charter schools of students who might have scored higher. Why are you deliberately trying to make neighborhood public schools into schools that will take only those students who less likely to do well on statewide tests?
50. Your policies are aimed at enhancing charter school enrollment. Why are you doing that and then–a) contending parents are ‘voting with their feet’ and b) admitting those same policies lessen the effectiveness of neighborhood public schools. As superintendent, are you working for public schools or charter schools–and please don’t say both?