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.”
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.
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.