The so-called “Newark Educational Success Board”–a governmental fiction with no legal standing–was created as a consequence of the same deal cut between Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka that brought former state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf to Newark as the school system’s superintendent to replace the disgraced Cami Anderson. The board, dominated by Christie appointees, most with charter school ties, has met only once since its creation more than a month ago–and the result of that meeting did not bring good news for those opposed to state control. A ” report” outlining a “roadmap” for a return to local control won’t even be ready for another year–and the district may even be farther away from local control than it was last year.
State Education Commissioner David Hespe–once Cerf’s chief of staff–ran the meeting and made it clear he would act as a 10th member of the “success board,” giving even greater weight to the Christie appointees who dominate the panel.
But that wasn’t the worst of what happened. The committee members were given data showing that Newark’s score on the scale of the state’s judgment of the district’s readiness to return to local control had actually dropped, suggesting the local school system was even less prepared–at least in the eyes of its state masters–than it had been a year ago.
A legislative source who asked not to be identified said the downgrading of Newark’s score on the “governance” scale from 76 to 72 “raised a lot of questions about the state’s sincerity.”
The score appears on a complicated scale known as the “Quality Single Accountability Continuum,” or QSAC. There are five measures of local district readiness imposed on a district and it must reach a score of 80 on each to “pass” the accountability system.
Newark actually reached a passing score of 89 on governance in 2011–nine points above passing– but the state education commissioner at the time arbitrarily refused to turn over governance, declaring the district wasn’t ready despite what the law says. The courts upheld him, citing the great discretion invested in the commissioner’s office.
And who was the state education commissioner at the time?
None other than Christopher Cerf, now the state-appointed schools superintendent in Newark. The man so many are trusting to keep his promise to return the district to local control. If he won’t abide by the law, what makes anyone believe his political promises can be trusted?
The legislative source said the scale was “totally subjective” and gave Cerf, Hespe, and Christie the power to manipulate QSAC scores to keep Newark under the state’s thumb–or demand changes, like enhancing the role of charter schools, before permitting a return of local control.
Of course, in a state takeover district, the state-appointed superintendent is responsible for what happens–so whatever new failures Christie and Hespe and Cerf will discover are completely their own. Logic, however, has never been a strong point of the takeover.
What is frustrating to many is that the “Newark Education Success Board” operates completely outside an already existing legislative framework that should have allowed a return to local control years ago. Instead, that legislative procedure has been completely–and possibly, illegally–pre-empted by a political deal between Baraka and Christie.
How Newark could return to local control–without the Christie/charter dominated committee–was outlined in a recent article by Theresa Luhm of the Education Law Center in NJ Spotlight. Luhm argued that the Christie/Baraka panel could even slow down the return to local control. She wrote, “It is important to understand that the existing QSAC law provides the roadmap for getting there. Developing a new process is not necessary, and would likely only delay the return to local control. ”
Luhm wrote that, if Christie really wanted to return Newark to local control, it could be done by the beginning of 2016. But it’s clear Christie–whose presidential ambitions were boosted by the deal–is in no hurry. In an internal memorandum describing the mission of the committee, only a “report setting forth a detailed roadmap” needs to be provided by the end of the next school year.
Just a report. Not a return to local control. No word about when local control will be reinstated. And Cerf, a national champion of privatization who worked for companies that draw consulting contracts from the city, will be in charge all that time. He has a three-year contract.
But there’s more to worry about. The language in the original Christie/Baraka statement requires the school district “to ensure that the problems that led to the state takeover of the school district will never reoccur.”
As the legislative source commented–“How in the world can you do that?” It can’t be done, of course, but it gives the state a lot of leverage to demand changes and steps that local officials must accept in order to gain local control.
One of the great ironies attached to the “success board” is a warning from state officials to the panel’s members not to discuss the committee’s meetings in public. So much for the promise in the original Christie/Baraka deal that pledged, “We have also agreed to communicate fully and effectively with each other throughout the transitional period and with students, parents and the community.”
Secrecy is never a good sign.
All the attention is now paid to the vague promise of local control–with no indication of just what sort of school district will remain to be controlled by any agency, state or local.
The Christie/Baraka agreement makes no mention of the restoration of state aid cut from the district budget–including tens of millions of dollars given to charters and taken away from children in neighborhood public schools. It says nothing about the racial segregation in the Newark schools, a predominantly black and brown district surrounded by predominantly white districts like Millburn. It says nothing about the continued leeching of public funds away from public schools to support charters–a problem Cami Anderson herself warned about.
So what will be locally controlled–if and when local control finally does come to Newark?
Baraka has scheduled a 10 a.m. press conference today, Wednesday, to discuss schools. In the past, he has defended the agreement, dismissed Cerf’s appointment as an irrelevance, and criticized as “crackpots” or worse those who–like the publisher of this site–think it was a bad idea to allow Cerf to come to Newark for a vague promise of local control.