State may delay quick return to local control of Newark’s schools

NESB members (from left) Mary Bennett, Grace Sergio, Donald Katz, Rev. Perry Simmons, Ross Danis, Christopher Cerf and Jose Leonardo
NESB members (from left) Mary Bennett, Grace Sergio, Donald Katz, Rev. Perry Simmons, Ross Danis, Christopher Cerf and Jose Leonardo. Absent were Al Koeppe and Rochelle Hendricks.

The head of a committee established to find a “road map” to return local control to Newark’s public schools revealed Wednesday night that the end of state operation of New Jersey’s largest school district may be delayed further into the future than originally hoped. Mary Bennett also warned an audience of some 100 city residents that the district that is returned to a locally elected school board, it “will not look very much like” the school system seized by the state in 1995.

Bennett, one of nine members of the so-called “Newark Educational Success Board,” (NESB) said the panel had been told by state education officials that the current school board will have to “demonstrate over time that (it) can govern itself.”  She said the state officials alone would determine how long that “over time” would last.

Bennett, the former principal of Malcolm X Shabazz High School,  was one of four Newark residents appointed to the panel by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. The other five were appointed by Gov. Chris Christie. She said the judgment of those state officials might be overturned by state Education Commissioner David Hespe.

“We were told the education commissioner had great latitude in determining when we could achieve governance,” said Bennett who now heads the Alliance for Newark Public Schools.

Bennett made the comments after the two hour meeting wrapped up and did not reveal the possible delay during the meeting that brought scores of people to the Abyssinian Baptist Church to describe what they wanted to see in a restored Newark school district. Most said they wanted the restoration of a wide variety of programs that had been cut because of budget problems encountered for years by the district’s state managers.

Deacon Stephen Outing: "We need a deadline now."
Deacon Stephen Outing: “We need a deadline now.”

The timing of the return to local control is a potentially explosive issue. One speaker, Deacon Stephen Outing of Metropolitan Baptist Church and a member of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, demanded that the committee announce a deadline by which local control would be restored.

“You tell the governor we need a deadline,” said Outing, pointing at state-appointed schools superintendent Christopher Cerf, who also is a member of the NESB. “We need a date.  Otherwise this is just politics.   We need a date now. Anything else is not acceptable.”

Outing pointed out that, four years ago, the district had met all the requirements for a return to local control but it was denied by the then state education commissioner who also had “latitude.” That commissioner was Christopher Cerf.

John Abeigon, the president of the Newark Teachers Union, said the state’s insistence on meeting benchmarks in a state accountability system known by its acronym–QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum)–was a “cruel joke” because the district had to rely on the state officials running the district to meet the requirements.

“It’s just a tool to keep the state in control,” Abeigon said.

Bennett did not respond to the demands to set a deadline although she suggested full control might be delayed until  Gov. Chris Christie leaves office which, she said mistakenly, would be January, 2017. In fact, Christie leaves office in January, 2018.

Outing’s reference to the politics of the NESB is a sore spot. The committee was established in a deal between Christie and Baraka that also led to both the dismissal of former superintendent Cami Anderson and her replacement by Cerf, a former state education commissioner who actually hired Anderson.  Baraka appeared briefly at the meeting and once again, as he has done repeatedly in the past, criticized those who have criticized the arrangement.

The deal also brought an abrupt end to increasingly intense street demonstrations, most of them organized by the Newark Students Union, aimed at Christie just as he was embarking on his presidential campaign. Jose Leonardo, the president of the NSU, defended his decision to accept appointment to the committee.

He said he agreed to serve because he  “loved the city” and thought students could contribute “more than just making noise in the street.”

Annette Alston, a Newark teacher and vice president of the Newark Teachers Association,  brought up the possibility that the state would try to delay a return to local control. She said she believed–and Bennett agreed–that the school district would have to do far more than finish required reports.

“The school board will have to show both a capacity and a durability in its ability to lead,” said Alston.

Bennett’s other comments–about what the district would look like after the end of state control–suggested the city’s traditional public schools would play a less significant role in the education of some 50,000 Newark children–and charter schools would play more.

The role of privately-operated charter schools in a new Newark system also is a sore point. Several speakers said they should be treated like private schools without public funding and should be subjected to the same sort of state scrutiny as public schools. Others denounced pro-charter members of the NESB as “racists.”

Bennett said the NESB would conduct at least three more open meetings before it issues its report no later than June of next year. She conceded last night the NESB’s report could be rejected either by Baraka or Christie and its revision could take even more time.

When Baraka first announced the deal with Christie, he said he hoped local control could be returned by the beginning of the 2016 school year, less than a year from now. Christie, however, has only said he “hoped” local control could “ultimately” be returned to Newark.

 

 

10 comments

  1. Kate

    I’m not at all surprised at the lack of transparency of the NE”S”B, nor at the sudden hedging about when the citizens of Newark will have a voice in the running of their schools. Who would want to give up a seemingly endless supply of tax dollars and other swag, with literally no accountability to either the citizens of Newark or the taxpayers of New Jersey? They’ll return local control only after they’ve sucked this cash cow dry.

  2. Allen Patterson

    Newark is not viewed as a metropolitan city but rather a plantation of “house (racial epithet deleted)” and “field (racial epithet deleted)”. I say this in the spirit of Malcolm X. The white folks in government believe that black folks cannot govern themselves. Well, I would like to invite them to review American History as well as Black History and they will find that we have made great contributions to this nation called the “United” States of America. But, what is most insulting is the position that the “house (racial epithet deleted)” Ras Baraka (I refuse to acknowledge him as mayor) is a devil in sheep clothing. He ran for office on the promise of local control. As a candidate, he criticized the governor and Cami Anderson. Now, he criticizes those who criticizes the arrangement. A typical “house (racial epithet deleted)”. He really doesn’t know or understand the frustration of those protesting or disagreeing to the arrangement because his two daughters attend the Edison Public Schools District. Furthermore, “We” the people, under a democratic republic have the right to criticize the functions of government. As mentioned, we met over 80% of QSAC but, during his term as commissioner, the modern day slave master Christopher Cerf made the self determination that black folks in Newark Public Schools needed to be ruled by white folks.

    I have publicly said and have been criticized myself for my harsh attack against Ras Baraka. I truly wonder what does his supporters think of him now. His political capital is damaged.

    We must analyze the metaphor of how the state looks at NPS. Those in control, view NPS system as a junk car. It would be too costly to invest in new parts so the alternative is to strip the car and sell the parts (i.e., engine, transmission, or anything that is salvageable). So, with the delay, the state is looking for new buyers. Since the citizens of Newark can’t win against the state or find an ally in City Hall, we should beat the state and city at their very own game. According to the Charter School Act of 1996, a charter school is established when 50% of both parents and teachers vote to “turnaround” the traditional school into a charter school. Under the law, the teachers and parents have equal equity in the anatomy of the school without the bureaucratic bullshit (except the acceptance of the charter by the state) of the state. If the teachers and parents establish this accord, we could educated our children accordingly and prepare them for the 21st century. That’s all I have to say for the moment. Pardon my use of the N-word. Good morning to all.

    Bob Braun: As much as I abhor censorship of any sort, I felt I should delete the racial epithets in his comment. I apologize to those who may have been offended by what I took out as well as to those who may have been offended by what I left in.

    • ALLEN PATTERSON

      To Bob Braun:

      I have been an active member of the community for over twenty years. For you to censor my comments is quite insulting. As I mentioned, “in the spirit of Malcolm X. The facts are the facts in Newark politics. I would love to introduce myself to you and fully explain my position.

      Bob Braun: I know and I am sorry you find what I did insulting. I am not a member of the community and I know some who are might associate me with the use of a word that has become anathema when spoken or written by white persons. Deleting one word–a word easily filled in by readers–does nothing to detract from the force of your argument. I agree the facts are the facts in Newark politics. I would be happy to meet with you. Contact me through my email at bob@bobbraunsledger.com.

  3. Ms D Ross

    its all a ploy to stall local control the district will never be restored because as tyme continue`s to roll on public school`s will be dismantled & outfunded so there won`t be any budget & public schools will continue to be replaced by charter school`s in the name of “cost effective” reforms quiet as its kept they`re really waiting for the completion of.the teachers village which will become the headquarter`s for the charter district 2 cedar st will then shut down because they won`t be needed anymore you can clearly see there plan to abolish public ed in the city of newark this was the plan since they.changed.the.name from the Board of Ed to NPS the BOE was a billion $$ industry til the state got.tired of.pumping $$ into the district claiming moneys were being wasted in the urban.district`s then they lowered the bar on education & created. charter school in the name of “cost effective” reforms purposely botched the “race-to-the-top” federal $$ that would`ve came with federal oversight to recieve the zuckerburg $$`s that came with no oversight which gave them full autonomy to manipulate the district by stalling $$`s to drain the district which bought them tyme to expand charters in the name of “cost effective” reforms I was maliciously& unfairly victimized by these same “cost effective” reforms

  4. Becca Fields

    Absent a change in the law, QSAC is the (deeply flawed) measure by which the return of local control will be measured. So unless this board is talking about how to raise those scores, it is nothing more than a tool Christie used to facilitate his presidential campaign. And frankly talking about QSAC on a board would have no impact as long as the state continues to intentionally destabilize the district and run it into the ground. If the board has conceded that local control is unlikely to occur until Christie leaves office then why participate in his charade? The leverage is lost. He needed to get people to the table. At that moment we should have negotiated the end of One Newark, the end to charter expansion and turnarounds/renewals.

  5. Alanius Beliskis

    Selecting excellent, well qualified teachers is critical to NPS’ success. Currently, the initial screening and selection is being handled by the private company in PRINCETON that supports the teachnewark.COM (not .edu or .org) website. The Newark general counsel’s office has denied under OPRA (NJ Freedom of information law) that they know or have documents reflecting the teacher selection “algorithm” /criteria! Astounding! If it is untrue they are violating State and Federal law! If it IS true it is even WORSE! How can they NOT KNOW how teachers for Newark schools are being selected!!?? They can’t be that clueless! Their are numerous laws on EEO, AA, A Disability Act Age discrimination, executive order #11246 (signed in 1965 by Johnson with the voting rights law, that say they MUST know! Either they are clueless or prevaricating (I am avoiding the “L” word!) ! Not a good set of alternatives ! Bodes ill for the future of NPS!

  6. booklady

    1. If Cerf is providing monthly report to NJ State Board of Education, Alliance for NPS would be smart to send BoE a monthly statement of what NPS needs to do to progress to local control.
    It’s too easy for NPS to spend time on other matters, e.g., hiring 2 people to replace 1 communications director.

    2. What do CASA (principals and administrators) members think? Did any attend the NESB meeting?

    Thank you Bob, for attending & reporting on so many events/meetings when you could be chilling out. But I suspect the essence of who Bob Braun is delights in pursuing knowledge to share with and motivate us.

  7. Bill Wolfe

    IT’s far too later to start demanding a date – that is a critical issue that should have been in the Baraka – Christie deal.

    The State will turn over local control only after there is nothing left to control – a privatized charger system. New Orleans is the model.

    That Neoliberal model has now infected Camden as well.

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