The filing of tenure charges against a Newark school principal within 48 hours of his unwitting participation in Cami Anderson’s self-destructive behavior before a legislative committee in Trenton is probably the most chilling act of bureaucratic retaliation witnessed in Newark in decades. Through the simple act of responding to a legislator by standing up and raising his hand, Tony Motley showed Anderson was lying—and she knew it. After helplessly sputtering about her “integrity” and hinting darkly about some sort of “investigation,” Anderson clearly showed how angry and embarrassed she was—and how Motley was certain to pay a price.
This was not planned. Although Motley and Anderson have clashed before, he did not even intend to go to the Jan. 6 hearing conducted by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools (JCPS), a panel arrogantly spurned by Anderson for years. I was sitting next to him for a good part of the hearing. Including the moment when Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), a former Essex County schools superintendent, began questioning Anderson about the “rubber rooms” in Newark.
A “rubber room” can be a place but, more generally, it represents assignments given to school employees that often mean they will receive paychecks without doing meaningful work. The employees are designated “educators without placement” or EWPs. They may be assigned to an office at school headquarters—Motley was assigned to Room 904 at 2 Cedar Street in Newark. They may be assigned to their own homes. A document dated last summer showed that more than 400 Newark employees were EWPs and assigned to central office, various schools around town, their own homes, or to jobs they were not licensed to do—at an annual cost to taxpayers of some $25 million.
Caputo asked about the “rubber rooms” and Anderson denied they existed. The legislator specifically asked about principals assigned to rubber rooms. She responded that no principal was in a rubber room. Motley turned to me, smiled, and said, “Then where am I?”
Some time later, Caputo resumed questioning Anderson. He apparently had been tipped off about Motley’s presence. The legislator asked whether there was anyone in the room who was a principal assigned to a rubber room. Motley stood up and raised his hand. He said nothing.
By that time, I had moved and was sitting a few rows behind Anderson. Her face flushed red and she began what looked like what might become a descent into a meltdown. She said she didn’t want to talk about personnel matters but hinted darkly that Motley might have been assigned to no duties because he had done something that required him to be away from schools and children—something she has done with other educators assigned to duty-less positions. For the record, Motley has not been charged with anything that would require him to be away from schools; he is not under investigation.
I knew Tony Motley was headed for bad trouble—and soon. The empress with (figuratively) no clothes had been humiliated and her veracity had been questioned, if not totally destroyed. The empire would strike back. Two days later, the lawyer for the school administrators’ union received a letter indicating Anderson had filed tenure charges against the 47-year-old educator.
More about the charges later. It’s important now to describe just who Tony Motley is and why Anderson has been itching to get him for years. He is a 47-year-old father of two about to complete his doctorate at Kean University. Until Chris Christie, Cory Booker and Christopher Cerf brought the megalomanic Anderson to Newark to forward the interests of the mayor, the governor, and charter schools, Motley had a good reputation as a principal and won a variety of awards for his work in the city.
He might best be remembered as one of the five Newark principals suspended a year ago by Cami Anderson for answering questions about Anderson’s “One Newark” plan—along with H. Grady James, Deneen Washington, Dorothy Handfield and Lisa Brown—at a public forum. All five sued Anderson. Only James remains a Newark principal. Washington, Handfield, and Motley work every day in what Anderson would have us believe are non-existent Newark public school rubber rooms. Brown now works in the Trenton public schools.
Motley’s Bragaw Avenue School became one of the many prizes awarded to leaders of TEAM Academy charter schools by their old friend and business associate and now sponsor, Cami Anderson. So Motley was assigned to a rubber room she pretends doesn’t exist and the parents of children at Bragaw went…elsewhere. Victims of the “One Newark” plan and the sordid bias toward charter schools.
Sacrificing their neighborhood public school for the good (and profit) of privatized schools is the least the poor people of Newark can do for Cami’s friends, right?
Motley also has filed affirmative action and federal discrimination complaints against Anderson. He is a member of the executive committee of the City Association of School Administrators (CASA), a union Anderson has tried to destroy by eliminating positions like department chairperson and supervisor. Unlike many other principals, Motley has not remained silent when Anderson appears before them and describes her fanciful view of reality in Newark.
Motley is, in short, a marked man. And has been for years. It was only a matter of time before Anderson’s dwindling supply of restraint and good judgment ran out. She doesn’t like to look like an incompetent and lying ass before an audience like the Legislature–but she sure did this time and now Motley is going to pay.
Are there charges against him? Of course. The charges contend Motley has not been a very good principal—and that comes under the general rubric of “inefficiency,” a method of eliminating pesky critics and well-paid teachers and administrators among the tenured, a witch-hunt vastly expanded by that great intellectual hero of American education, Chris–“Sit down and shut up!”– Christie, and acceded to by cowards in the Legislature and elsewhere in Trenton.
Motley also is charged with “conduct unbecoming,” an allegation most often reserved for child molesters, convicted felons, and, except for a public college president with close political ties, people who lie about their credentials. In Motley’s case, however, Anderson rehashed the inefficiency charges and called them “conduct unbecoming.”
Oddly, the same charges could be made against Anderson for her failure to show up at school board meetings, her refusal to engage with her own community, the mistakes she made with “One Newark,” the pain she inflicted on city residents and their children, her tolerance of illegal activity by permitting teachers to work outside their licenses, her wasteful spending, most aptly represented by wasting millions on “rubber rooms,” and her failure to raise test scores. If Motley is guilty, Anderson is twice so.
Generally, I know Motley has denied the charges, pointing out that the district—through the person of Anderson hatchet-man and assistant superintendent Roger Leon—has been sitting on these complaints for a while. When Motley is ready to refute them, I will print the details. Otherwise, it’s like printing the details of an unproven indictment—something Chris Christie loved to do to the political rivals who stood in his way—and I’m not going to join with Leon and Anderson in the destruction of a good man and good school school principal. Leon has his own agenda; I don’t.
Motley is confident he will win. I am not. The leadership of the Newark schools is corrupt, as is the leadership of the state education department, because both have been corrupted by Christie’s politics and the opportunity for greed provided by the privatization of Newark schools.
The mainstream media, if it runs anything about this story, will automatically take Anderson’s and Leon’s side because nothing negative can be said of the “bold and sensible” policies of the state-appointed Newark school superintendent. Motley will be fried before he gets to an arbitrator. With any luck, mainstream media outlets like The Star-Ledger will be so busy trying to rehabilitate the reputation of Anderson and her $175,000-a-year sycophants—like Leon—that they will ignore just another tenure charge against yet another Anderson critic.
But wasn’t the timing just exquisite? Forty-eight hours after Tony Motley exposed Cami Anderson as a liar, she pulls the trigger on a process that could destroy his career, ruin his family, and cost him and his union a lot of money.
Welcome to Anderson’s Republic of Fear, where lies are believed, good is punished, sycophants are held out as heroes, and the bad guys win. Republic?
Oh, no, make that empire. Cami Anderson’s desolate Empire of Fear.