The people of Newark are scammed again

Baraka meets with Christie. shortly after the mayor's election.
Baraka meets with Christie. shortly after the mayor’s election.

The children, parents, and residents of Newark have been scammed again.

More than a year ago, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Gov. Chris Christie cut a deal.

Baraka would pull his support away from the burgeoning anti-Christie demonstrations in the streets of Newark in return for the dismissal of Cami Anderson as state schools superintendent and the vague promise of an “eventual” return to local control of the school district after 20 years of state administration. Of course, Christie insisted that Anderson be replaced by Christopher Cerf, a national champion of privately-run charter schools and Anderson’s mentor when he was state education commissioner.

It was a deal that smelled to high heaven a year ago–and yesterday’s action by the state school board proved how stinking it really was.

The Star-Ledger, the institutional cheerleader for school “reform” in Newark, wrote this headline today: “Schools regain a measure of control: State gives district back the authority to make its own decisions on personnel.”

Cerf and friends, Mayor Ras Baraka and Baraka's then school aide, Lauren Wells.
Cerf and friends, Mayor Ras Baraka and Baraka’s then school aide, Lauren Wells.

Well, that’s not exactly what happened. The headline writer–and, please, never blame a reporter for an inaccurate headline–apparently overlooked this paragraph from the reporter’s story:

“The state will still be able  to veto individual personnel decisions if it considered it necessary. It will also continue to control the school district’s programs and instruction and, most importantly, its governance, (state education commissioner David) Hespe said.”

(So many “its” in that sentence!)

Consider this: A few weeks ago, Cerf reorganized the district to bring his pals and sycophants in and co-opt some of the more promising administrative talent in Newark by giving them next-to-nothing jobs with great titles. Hespe is telling the local, Baraka-controlled board–not much of a board now anyway–it cannot undo Cerf’s personnel decisions.

Got that, everyone? After more than a year of promises to return local control–Baraka said it would happen before the end of the last school year, “if not sooner”–what the people of Newark got was one hold big smelly bag of offal.

Personnel decisions that can be overturned,

Program and instruction still in the hands of the state.

New best buds: Cerf, Donald Katz (a trustee of a charter chain) and Mayor Ras Baraka. Katz was a state appointee to the impotent NESB
New best buds: Cerf, Donald Katz (a trustee of a charter chain) and Mayor Ras Baraka. Katz was a state appointee to the impotent NESB

Governance still firmly in the control of Christie and Hespe–where it will undoubtedly remain until Christie leaves office in 2018 (no, he will not become Donald Trump’ attorney general because Trump will not become president). And you can forget it even then if another Republican or neo-liberal Democrat replaces Christie, a distinct possibility.

To me, the saddest part of the story didn’t have to do with the state board’s decision to scam Newark again.

It had to do with this paragraph from the same Star-Ledger story:

“The city and state have been working closely to bring an end to the state takeover since last year, when Mayor Ras Baraka and Gov. Chris Christie created a nine-member commission tasked with steering the district to local control.”

No. Sorry, my friend and colleague: That nine-member commission, otherwise known as the Newark Educational Success Board (NESB), was supposed to publish a “road map” to local control before the end of the school year. It didn’t. It was supposed to hold a series of public hearings to get community input for local control. It didn’t.

What it did do was sideline and silence three of the most important leaders of the anti-state, anti-Christie coalition that almost shut down Newark and North Jersey with street demonstrations on May 22. Mary Bennett, retired principal of Shabazz High School, architect of a post-state school reform, and leader of the Newark Alliance for Public Schools; Grace Sergio, a hard-fighting parent advocate, and Jose Leonardo, the president of the Newark Students Union.

Bennett, Sergio, and Leonardo were silenced. They were silenced because they were appointed members of the NESB. In a separate maneuver, Baraka managed to silence Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson by making her, first, school board president, and second, his chief aide on schools. Sayonara, Lauren Wells!

The Baraka/Christie deal was really this: Christie would get peace in the streets while he campaigned for president; Baraka would get a fictional narrative called “return to local control” he could use to justify his smelly deal with Christie–plus Cerf’s cooperation in creating a separate educational kingdom in Baraka’s Newark’s South Ward where quasi charter schools could flourish under the rubric of “community education.”

Meanwhile, Cerf would finish the job Anderson started: Privatization, more charter schools, outside control through surrogates appointed by the state.

You just got to feel sorry for the people of Newark who trusted their leaders.






  1. Trust their leaders ?
    Do they never learn? White man coming , came , never left, money, money for all the wrong folks ..and all the kids floating again .

  2. Of course, program and instruction is still under control of the state. That’s the best opportunity for spreading around that sweet, sweet cash to their “friends.” Of course, no real personnel decision-making can be entrusted to the citizen-representatives who might let needs of students override patronage hiring.

  3. The part about personnel decisions is not entirely true. The district does have control over personnel decisions. Specifically, the district’s parents have that control. The parents of the district can fire the State of New Jersey as the governing entity over The Newark Public Schools by doing the following:

    1.) Boycott State Control of the Local Public Schools. Do not allow your students to go to school for the first two weeks of school.

    2.) Dictate the terms. On the third week, bring your student to the school YOU want them to attend, not the school the ONENewark or Newark Enrolls Algorithm told you to send your kids to. The schools can not refuse a student. Additionally, The State has fired so many NPS employees, that there is no one to say otherwise.

    3.) Spread the message. Tell everyone you know to spread the message. Share it on Instagram. Share it on Snapchat. Share and like it in Twitter and Instagram.

    The State is on the ropes right now. They are trying to keep the public from knowing that. Remember the case against them is strong. They have been failing for the past 20 years, and managed to put up a front. Christie’s administration has made the State’s occupation of The Newark Public Schools worse than it’s been since the 60’s and the 70’s. But they put on a good face, and they talk authoritatively to project that they are in control of the situation and that they are in control of the schools. They are in control of neither. They are making it up as they go along. Ask any NPS employee– or ex-employee. They will tell you. NPS, in terms of state governance is a sham. The true power is with the people. And all they have to do is, as Cami Anderson used to say, “Vote with their feet,” and stay home in September. That protest will speak louder than any demonstration on Broad Street, or Route 21, or in front of Board Offices ever could.

  4. Wish YOU were still writing for the [Newark Star] Ledger, Bob!

    1. Bob Braun is too great of a journalist for the Star Liar.

  5. Let me see if I can get this straight. Local control has been returned to the Advisory
    Board in matters of personnel. However, if the State is not in agreement with personnel decisions made by the Board, it has veto power. To whom does the Chief Talent Officer report; to the Superintendent, or to the Board? If an employee has a concern, what is the procedure to follow in moving up the chain of command? What is the practical significance of local control in Newark?

  6. Where is Mayor Baraka? Has his office issued a statement? Is he no longer interested in local control? Wouldn’t this be a perfect opportunity for a photo op with State District Superintendent Cerf?

    1. Observer, Just curious what good a photo op with Cerf (who hired Christie as a lobbyist years ago and whose consulting firm wrote plan to charterize Newark) would be to Baraka?

  7. Oh do I like ‘The Newark Public Schools” comment. Until the community and most importantly the parents wage a battle, nothing, but nothing will change. Scratch that, it will only get worse. If a huge majority of kids boycotted school for 2 weeks, it could mean getting the national press to start covering the story. It would be killing two birds with one stone since this kind of attention in the September before the presidential elections would bring much-needed scrutiny to Chris Christie (most of the country only knows him as a brash tough guy and have no idea of the kinds of policies he has enacted or the way he treats hard-working public employees). And obviously the other bird to be killed would be to raise a ruckus loud, strong and sustained enough to end the disastrous One Newark plan. Anyone who protests that missing the first two weeks of school would be hurting the kids, has to think about what the continued current management of the district will do to these kids over the long run, not to mention future generations. It is time to expose what is happening to the media that is less slavish than the Star Ledger and get support from outside of Newark. Think of the support that poured into the Chicago teacher strike a few years back and how the national media strengthened their cause. Newark, fight back!

    1. They are laying off 1,000 teachers and support staff in Chicago. They were just notified.

  8. Bob, Do you or your readers know why Dr Dorothy Strickland voted Yes to require PARCC tests for high school graduation, at last week’s NJ State Board of Ed meeting?

    1. Dear booklady,

      I imagine you have plenty in response to your own query, while at the same time I respect your having put this question specifically to the community.

      Dr. Strickland, a highly accomplished educator, is, in her own words, also a juggler (1:15), with a vision (1:40). Her paradoxical props include things like teacher autonomy and the need for regulation – sort of a fire and ice act.

      She apparently owes much of her success in life to an intervention (0:33). The call to greatness has seemingly left a lasting impression on Dr. Strickland, and has helped to feed her devotion ever since.

      To your specific question, I would submit that a more obvious answer might be a simple one — it’s her baby.

      “ … because I was very much involved in the development of them — I was on the validation committee.”

      Christie World – all about friends helping friends to become better friends.

      I know it’s tangential to your edu question (but, in my opinion, not really): Did anyone, particularly those in the press, take any kind of in-depth look at the credentials of New Jersey’s new “Cyberczar”?

      Kinda sticks out like a sore thumb, but got little mention. While America is “quietly” getting a massive and highly aggressive structural makeover, our commercial press reclines like a pride of prissy kitties who will too often regard real action with a yawn, then go on preening their way to their own — gulp — next deadline. What to do?

      Ownership has its rewards. We should proceed to a simple hand count on the question of “who loves urban charter schools and why?” The dominos (tragically, it appears) fall from there, aided by every available form of corrupted reasoning. You know, the kind that decides the outcome first — and then builds a gossamer (and bigoted) argument from there?

      “Why do I (the proverbial I), from my official government position, love the privatization of public education in all its varied forms?”

      That’s the question that few can publicly answer, because the prime principals farmed out the “thinking” involved, tank-raised their own pet leviathan, and then proceeded to hand out freshly sharpened complimentary harpoons of reason (plus the pocket lucre), with which the devoted can do their part to stab at the allegedly aging beast of public education in America.

      Hint: absent the deliberate abuse, the school system could recover nicely, but even that will not save the American economy – only part of which has a ticket for passage to the New America.

      Hard to tell up from down when the tallest tales about the plight of the least of us are issuing – bizarrely, and with all of the restraint of a runaway Gulf Coast oil leak — straight from the top.

      PARCC is a chokepoint, probably more so than a “checkpoint” — if the new century dreamers can only get it up and running before the population rebels (!). Should they happen to succeed – and the dark money trail says they will — well, ask any veteran teacher: What then will become of the bottom half of the population?

      Or has it grown to three-fifths again? Anyone from the dark money side of the tracks have an answer?

      Might just as well listen for the sea with your ear glued to the inside of a commandeered conch. Until you catch a harpoon yourself.

  9. NJ Spotlight 8-9 article by John Mooney “State Allows Newark to Measure Academic Achievements in New Ways” notes, “For instance, the district will be measured on whether it improves on the number of schools with high rates of absenteeism.” Remember all the Newark schools that showed 100% attendance on NJ DoEd website? Whose numbers will Cerf use? Could this factor serve to keep Cerf in his quarter-million $ job longer?

  10. Reminder to send Chris Cerf a wedding anniversary greeting for Aug 18. Remember he couldn’t attend 2015 NPS Board meeting?

    For some, canoodling takes precedence over tens of thousands of students. For others, business responsibilities mean observing anniversaries on weekends.

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