THE BIG SELLOUT: The extra state aid is going to charters, NOT public school children.

cerfwellsbarakaNewark’s state-appointed schools chief Christopher Cerf has spent a lot of time lately praising the Christie Administration for increasing Newark’s state aid–“The first time in years we haven’t had flat funding,” he told the board meeting Tuesday night. Several members of the audience yelled out, “Liar!” and they were right. The extra money is part of the big Cerf/Baraka sell-out of public schools–and it is not going to the city’s public schools. It is going to charters, the favorite educational children of Christie, Cerf, and now, sadly, Mayor Ras Baraka.

Don’t take it from me. I know I’ve received a lot of criticism for pointing out that the schools superintendent and mayor have joined together–in “unity,” they call it–when the two should be at odds about the future of public schools. That’s fine.

Cerf, left, and Baraka appear with Donald Katz, a trustee of Uncommon Schools, a charter chain, at a recent public appearance (From NJSpotlight)
Cerf, left, and Baraka appear with Donald Katz, a trustee of Uncommon Schools, a charter chain, at a recent public appearance (From NJSpotlight)

But, perhaps, Cerf and Baraka should read the latest statement on state school aid provided by the Education Law Center in Newark because its researchers know far more than I do about crunching the right numbers. And here’s what they have concluded about the distribution of state aid:

Newark Charters: The Big Winner

Newark charter schools are the big winners – by far – in the Governor’s school aid proposal. Almost one-quarter of the total $94 million statewide increase, or $22 million, will go to hold Newark charter schools harmless from aid reductions due to declining revenue in the State-operated Newark Public Schools’ (NPS) budget. For the last two years, the State has forced NPS to give extra “hold harmless” funds to charter schools out of the district’s budget. This year, the State is providing extra “hold harmless” aid that the district must pass through to the charters.

The $22 million to hold Newark charters harmless represents 82%, or the lion’s share, of the $26 million increase to the FY17 NPS budget. NPS must also fund an estimated $2 million for enrollment growth in the charters. Because the $22 million increase is driven by charter school budgets, and not based on the state aid owed to NPS under the SFRA, it is insufficient to close the district’s estimated $70 million budget deficit or address the resource needs in NPS-run schools.

Over half of the $20 million in charter hold harmless aid will likely go to the two large national charter chains operating in Newark. Last year, the KIPP charter group received $5.4 million, and Uncommon charters took in an extra $6 million in hold harmless funds. In addition, these and other Newark charters may be carrying large amounts of unused cash in “unrestricted” surplus accounts. A recent Education Law Center analysis showed Newark charters had almost $35 million in excess surplus at the end of 2013-14.

The Governor’s budget is more bad news for students in NPS-run schools. Successive years of flat state aid, coupled with the State’s decision to rapidly expand charters, has left the NPS budget in chronic deficit, forcing deep cuts in the number of classroom teachers, counselors, social workers and nurses, and in special education and bilingual education services and other essential resources.  

Now, let’s go back and read the Feb. 1 letter to Christie from the mayor and Cerf in which they beg for extra charter money and promise to expand their enrollment in the future.

Where did the money go? To charters, of course.
Where did the money go? To charters, of course.

Take a look at who signed it. Baraka was the first signature and that sort of makes him the “lead author,” followed by Cerf. Then let’s look at the school board members who signed it: Ariagna Perello, Crystal Fonseca, Marques-Aquil Lewis, Phil Seelinger, Rashon Hasan, Khalil Rashidi. The only persons who refused to sign were Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Donald  Jackson, and Dashay Carter.

What a coincidence–these six were the same people who voted for Cerf’s land-grab in opposition to Baskerville-Richardson’s pleas for more time to study what would happen to the tens of millions of dollars in school property that will now be given away.

More time, that’s all she and Jackson asked for.

You can be as blind as Homer and still see what’s happening: The board–four of whose members now work for the city–has flipped. It has joined–obeys–Baraka who has joined–obeys–Cerf. In “unity,” says the Cerf/Barak letter, to make it sound like betraying children is a good thing. With the creation of the Newark Educational Success Board (NESB) to stifle the voices of protesters and enhance the voices of charter proponents–with the collapse of the Newark Student Union–with the legal assault on the Newark Teachers Union and the City Association of School Administrator, it’s clear Newark is in a new day.

Something has happened. I wasn’t in the room when it happened–thank you, Hamilton, for that great line–and I have no inside information but, in little more than a year, the mayor has gone from being a champion of public schools to being an ally of Christie, Cerf, and the privately-operated charters. Maybe future historians will figure it out.

But right now–it looks and smells like a big sellout.




  1. The question we are increasingly compelled to ask?

    Is government–in this case the government of the United States, all the way down to little old New Jersey and now, tightly framed in the glossy literature gushing from Newark’s own alleged renaissance men (no, not limited to key educational concerns alone), Christophers Christie and Cerf, elbows abreast with their newest prospective court quisling, the Mayor of Newark himself–err, sorry, let’s begin again.

    In the example set before us, is public government, once it is so cleverly cloven and privatized, still government? Or has it (doesn’t it always?) become some other form of self-serving beast?

    I think it naive (and naïveté is something I well know) to regard this management structure as an arm of public government.

    Sure, it has a government arm attached and held out through the curtain like some cadaverous stage prop, but this is a management model of, by, and for, the great global and American private and corporate offshored and tax-havened party animals.

    Our children are just one of their latest hothouse crops–and out back? That’s where you’ll find the relentless chipper they use to grind up the cast-offs. It’s a big ‘ole chipper, and engineered to run dead quiet. Has to be for the volume they intend to process into human spam.

    And it’s impossibly pricey to operate that thing–forgetting who paid tax dollars for it in the first place. Lucrative it must be–in more ways than the obvious–for it to be sufficiently attractive, as it so plainly is, to the cold clutches of smarmy pissant privatizers.

    Add schools and hospitals to the prisons they run so effectively, then take into account who profits off every bit of strife-driven churn, win or lose—like, say, Governor Christie’s overcompensated and blood gorged (think: ticks on the body politic) campaign-fueling taxpayer funded legal team–and we can clearly see that the human processing venture they are stubbornly initiating is one seriously disconcerting mutha.

    Despite the blind and tacky pride vested in the pricey wraps, theirs is an enterprise model that is, deep down where it counts, inescapably ugly as sin–with no amount of personal fragrance that can conceal the horrifying and sweaty truth—with spiraling revelations growing ever more twisted when you move in for a close up view.

    How much do they miss Justice Scalia? That’s a tell right there, and rather a big one. Nothing more threatening than a healthy, lucid, even-handed judge. The Christie kind prefers ’em on the sick side and with a pronounced tendency to veer in a known direction.

    Human predictability, when combined with just the right amount of obvious frailty, will be the death of us all. Makes the general population into sitting ducks for these guys. Hunters, all of them.

    Odd (and also telling) when you think about it (for those who still assume a just world and all the honest government that such dreams entail), since the Christie clan, with the moves they consistently pull, should in turn be some legitimate official’s fish in a barrel. Still waiting.

    Access to recourse through the courts is an increasingly costly remedy which, naturally, favors those who can best afford to burn through cash without shedding a tear. And say!–it looks like some shrewd investors bought up most of that choice property, too. Just to keep it vacant when all else fails.

    Vote, I still say, while there is even a slender chance. Yes, there is a good reason to vote. And agitate at every opportunity. Peacefully, vociferously, and face it–a comparative few WILL always be required to rise and give voice to the muzzled needs of the many, at least until those champions, too, are eventually bought off. Or not?

    Let’s be smarter, people, than the poor enthralled suckers who just preceded us, because broad capitulation is typically a matter of “disrupting” the movements of just two successive generations and guess who fixates on prospects like that?

    With their b-school bibles for conquest, hyped-up world leader aspirants and plain old market maniacs are both known to make bank on the limitless gold to be found in exploiting such “revolutionary” axioms.

    Similarly, since today’s abundant, insurgent, and radical philanthropic big donor dollars are–due in large part to the cultivated obedience of select Supreme Court Justices—yesterday’s public tax dollars in freshly rebranded free market cellophane, what does it mean to democratic institutions when well-heeled private citizens turned self-anointed policy hobbyists are made welcome to simply plunk down and usurp the powers and responsibilities of elected and appointed bodies?

    Beware the New Philanthropy. Daddy Zuckbucks ain’t just giving it away. And it might not be goodness in their hearts which drives the dreams of the allegedly noble hyper-rich all day and night. There’ll be no sleeping this one off, once they’re allowed to get their proprietary formula locked in exactly how they like it.

    The tragically flawed and grasping are long known to make the best self-aggrandizing sellouts, and the bidding for fresh-faced high flyin’ political flunkies (no, not limited to politics) has been hot for an entire generation.

    Has it been two generations? Already? You don’t say.

  2. On the national, state and local level it is obvious that the political process of “impeachment and recall” has to become more of a factor with the careers of todays politicians.
    As the political debates and elections reveal the unnecessary corruption of public officials it becomes clearer to me that the people of the United States has to use the power of taking away from the corrupt public official, his or her job.
    If you impeach or recall you lessen the expense and time that you are dependent on the courts to do the job of ousting a corrupt politician.

    Here in New Jersey, if you take out the governor, you take out Cerf.
    This contract that is between Baraka, Christie and Cerf was done because none of them has a guaranteed position of employment going forward. So the illegal deals they make today, guarantees their futures. If you impeach or recall these individuals, you put a stop to all of their plans to rob the public.

    All politicians have to deal with the “Term Limits” of their office but to impeach or recall tells them that there is also limits to what they can do to their constituents and the taxpayer.

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