The chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools has asked the state education commissioner, the state attorney general, and the state comptroller to coordinate an investigation into the state’s operation of the Newark school district. He asked many of these questions before–and, so far, the Christie Administration and its legislative allies, including Democrats, have stonewalled his efforts and covered up the possible violations of law.
State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), in a 10-page letter to the state officials, lists scores of detailed questions he wants answered about the Newark district’s proposed $53 million deficit, the hiring of consultants, the granting of raises to top aides of the state-appointed school superintendent, the operation of the district’s “One Newark” enrollment plan, possible business connections between public officials and private entrepreneurs, the lack of state oversight over her spending and travel practices, the treatment of special education students, and possible conflicts of interest involving the state Economic Development Authority (EDA) that has awarded more than $100 million in construction funds to Newark charter schools.
Rice has twice demanded state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson appear before his committee to answer the questions but she blew off his invitations twice—including when she traveled to California to attend a conference, part of her disappearance from Newark in the run-up to the mayoral election.
“The lack of information, transparency, and accountability by Superintendent Cami Anderson and her administrators has raised much concern by the public regarding the sale of the 18the Avenue School building, the ‘One Newark’ plan, the igh salaries and raised provided to her staff, her relationship with consultants as well as the superintendent’s continuous travel out of state to conferences rather than being in the district to address the problems of the Newark Public Schools,” Rice wrote.
For five months, Rice has asked these questions and they have been reported in the media–including, at times, the main-stream media. Clearly, state education officials, law enforcement authorities and financial regulators have done everything they can to ignore the questions.
This is surprising. Acting Attorney General John Hoffman doesn’t have to wait to open an inquiry into possible wrong-doing that comes to his attention through the media. One would have suspected that the antennae of Acting Comptroller Marc Larkins would have been vibrating with curiosity when he heard of the $53 million deficit Anderson created at the Newark schools.
Most surprising, perhaps, is the reluctance of Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe to get involved in an area that is his direct responsibility. If even a fraction of Rice’s allegations had any validity, Hespe would be legally required at least to open some sort of inquiry. While we hear second-hand reports about Hespe’s concern about Anderson’s often bizarre behavior and laughable management skills, so far the commissioner–a lawyer with an excellent reputation–has failed to act.
Perhaps the Christie administration is just scandal fatigued–from Bridgegate to Pensiongate. Or it is covering this one up. Or, perhaps, because Rice represents Newark and the residents of Newark are often treated as colonial subjects rather than citizens. Whatever the reason, the result is a Cami cover-up.
Rice has become increasingly frustrated with the failure of Anderson to respond to his invitations and to the failure, so far, of the legislative leadership to grant his committee subpoena power to conduct his own investigation.
The senator also has reported that Republican members of his committee have reported to him that Anderson has refused to take their calls. She was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican.
The complete text of Rice’s letter, plus an index showing the salaries of her top aides, can be found at Dropbox at
Many of the questions raised by Rice’s letter were generated by articles about the so-called “Pink Hula Hoop” corporation, a for profit company established by leaders of TEAM Academy charter schools in order to facilitate the purchase of the 18th Avenue school, closed by Anderson two years ago. Stories here about “Pink Hula Hoop” showed the close connections among Anderson, former state education commissioner Christopher Cerf, TEAM Academy trustee chairman Tim Carden, and officials of the state Economic Development Authority—an agency Carden served as a member.
The executive director of the EDA is Michele Brown, a close friend and aide to Christie who borrowed money from him when he was the US Attorney. The EDA pumped money into Newark’s charter schools while the state’s School Development Authority withheld funds to build and repair Newark public schools.