A budget ax costing Newark’s children $15 million has fallen on the city’s public schools–but not its pampered charter schools. Christopher Cerf, the new state-imposed schools superintendent, had his underlings tell public school principals the bad news late Friday to avoid disrupting Cerf’s smiling charm offensive in the mainstream media.
John Abeigon, the president of the Newark Teachers Union, called the sneak attack on school funding “the Labor Day Weekend” massacre and said it proves “Cerf is not just here to provide a smooth transition to local control–he’s here to finish the job Cami Anderson started.”
The unanticipated cuts to individual schools can be devastating. At East Side High School, for example, it will amount to $440,000 in unexpectedly loss revenue. Students and faculty at East Side rejected efforts by the state administration to have the school designated as a “turnaround” school–and their revolt helped bring down Cerf’s discredited predecessor, Cami Anderson.
“East Side is paying the price for standing up to the state,” Abeigon said.
Abeigon and other educators said cuts included: $250,000 at Wilson; $110,000 at American History High; $100,000 at Central High school; Rafael Hernandez, $80,000; Roberto Clemente, $50,000; Ridge, $50,000.
Not all principals reported the amounts they were told to cut. The budget slashing will be even more difficult for the children because Cerf waited until after the school year began to impose them.
Under Anderson, the state administration had run up a deficit estimated to be close to $60 million. Much of that was caused by the creation of so-called “emp0loyees without placement” (EWPs)–teachers and others transferred out of their schools and replaced. Cerf said at a recent school board meeting that much of the deficit had been reduced by reinstating those teachers.
But heavy administrative and legal costs–much of it caused by state efforts to fire veteran teachers–have continued in the system operated by Gov. Chris Christie, his state education commissioner David Hespe, and Cerf, the man who, as commissioner, appointed Anderson and kept her in office.
Sources within the Newark Public Schools administration said principals have been given some leeway as to how they are going to cut–but the amount was dictated by Cerf.
Principals have been told their spending will be immediately limited–or “frozen”– pending their ability to enforce the cuts.
“We’ve already lost everything but the most basic instruction,” said one principal who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. “What are we supposed to cut?”
Well, probably things like maintenance, security, supplies, what few areas are left.
“Resources and instructional enhancement programs are for white and suburbanites only,” said Abeigon. “The children of the cities can be sacrificed.”
The city’s public schools already suffered a $25 million cut this year so that charter schools–which claimed to be public scho9ols when it suits the needs of their operators–could be held “harmless” from earlier revenue cuts imposed by the state.
“Both the governor and the Democratic leadership are guilty of cutting these funds from Newark’s children,” said Abeigon. “What will they do now?”
Cerf became superintendent July 8, appointed by a badly split state school board, after Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka reached a deal that both said would return local control to the city after more than 20 years of state control. Baraka has said he hopes local control will be returned by the end of this school year, while Christie has been far more ambiguous. In a recent television interview, the governor said he “hoped” that local control can be “ultimately” returned to Newark.
The details of the transfer of local control have been assigned to a committee, headed by Cerf, and dominated by a majority of Christie’s appointees, including nationally-known charter school champions like Donald Katz.
Baraka has dismissed the importance of the growth of growth of charter schools and insisted that the residents of the city should be considered only about the return of local control. However, charter school enrollment is expected to reach 40 percent of the total by next year and funds channeled to charters are not available to public schools. The more charter school students, the less money to traditional public schools.
This year, Christie–and the Democratic leadership–conspired to ensure that charter schools would not be hurt by reductions in state school aid to Newark. The charter schools were held “harmless” from the cuts, but traditional public schools were not.
Similarly, the charter schools will not be affected by the additional $15 million in cuts imposed this weekend by Cerf.
Many community activists have warned that, by the time local control is returned to city residents, the public schools will be drained of resources, leading to even more charter school enrollment and further declines in programs available to traditional school students.
Cerf has embarked on a publicity offensive to show how much he cares about the Newark schools. Repeated articles in mainstream media, especially The Star-Ledger, were drawn from his opening statement to the Newark school board last week.
As of Saturday afternoon, the newspaper had not reported on the unanticipated budget cuts that will rob the city’s children of already scarce resources.