The crisis is at hand. The decision by Cami Anderson, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to run the Newark schools four years ago, to cut neighborhood school budgets by an additional five percent brings closer the day, predicted by a deputy state education commissioner, when the financial crisis becomes a “political crisis”–and the political crisis results in a decision to turn the entire district over to private hands.
Andy Smarick, the former deputy commissioner, indicated that was the state’s plan. It’s also the plan outlined by his then boss, Christopher Cerf, in his “School Turnaround Proposal” (Does that word ring a bell?), funded by the Broad Foundation that would create a special “achievement school district” in which all collective bargaining contract provisions would be suspended (Can’t do it, huh? Heard anything about the inviolability of pensions, lately? Public employees now live in a free-fire zone).
Anderson’s demand that every school in Newark cut their spending plans by anywhere from $200,000 to $700,000 meets her needs–the further degradation of neighborhood schools that would allow further expansion of the privatized sector, meeting the $70 million deficit she ran up through wasteful spending on favored consultants, hopeless legal cases costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the assignment of fully paid teachers to rubber rooms, and creating a pretext for the state’s approval of a seniority waiver that is still sitting on the desk of state education Commissioner David Hespe. If Hespe signs that waiver, seniority is a thing of the past–and so are public employee unions.
Newark’s public schools already have been stripped of virtually every service and amenity that would distinguish them from the educational equivalent of an Apple factory inside China. Attendance counselors. Guidance counselors. Meaningful art and music and other non-testable offerings that create human beings rather than cogs for the machine.
And charters, by the way, are untouched by this. More money to charters, less money to public schools. More failure in public schools, more students sent to charters. The cycle isn’t just vicious–it’s racist and elitist. The people of Newark will have to decide whether it’s every family for itself and to hell with everyone else–the charter game–or whether all Newark’s children are the responsibility of everyone, of every family, in the city and deserve a public school system that serves everyone.
“What’s really so upsetting,” said a source familiar with the meeting Anderson held with principals, “is that nothing was said about the dozen or so deputy and assistant superintendents who are making more than most superintendents throughout the state. Their salaries won’t be cut.”
Indeed, it was just those deputy and assistant superintendents who delivered the bad news to the principals at the so-called Principal Leadership Institute meeting Tuesday in “break out” sessions.
The principals will have to come up with new plans Friday for the coming school year, now only three months away. But, given that 85 percent of a school operation is payroll, there’s not much guessing involved what will get cut–staff.
“You’re talking about bodies here, not pencils,” said the source.
Anderson need not fear that her budget cutting will cause more hurtful chaos in the already trouble-plagued Newark schools. Causing “disruption” is a primary focus of the Broad Academy and its plans for urban schools. The more disruption, the faster the progress toward creating an all-privatized school district, like that in New Orleans–and the Louisiana Supreme Court reminded public employees just the other day just how fragile their rights are.
But, of course, more is at stake than employee rights. The Anderson budget cuts, combined with the continued draining away of public funds to privately-operated charter schools, move Newark’s children closer and closer to an educational wasteland in which only a select few will have even a moderately acceptable education, while the vast majority of kids–black, brown, and poor–will be warehoused, prepared only for lives of quiet desperation.
This is no drill. This is a crisis.
But, of course, Christie and Anderson and Cory Booker and their billionaire supporters and enablers will call it reform.