At the end of the last Newark school board meeting, the board president quietly mentioned she would introduce a resolution at the next board session, scheduled for Tuesday night, August 25. Ariagna Perello gave no details but did mention it would concern “One Newark,” the state administration’s often cruel dispersal of students throughout Newark’s schools. Perello’s comment creates the strong possibility of a confrontation between the board and the new state-imposed superintendent, Christopher Cerf.
Cerf, a Montclair resident, wasn’t at the first scheduled meeting with the board last week but his spokeswoman, Brittany Parmley, said that, unlike his appointee and predecessor, Cami Anderson, he intended to attend all board meetings from now on—and he has a three-year contract.
The board, individual board members, and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka—who is close to most board members—already have either sharply criticized “One Newark” or demanded it be ended, so it won’t be much of a surprise if Perello’s resolution does call for an end to the enrollment procedure that could, in the few years Cerf has in his contract, radically change the nature of public schooling in the state’s largest city.
“Cerf is the closer,’’ said one source close to the board who asked for anonymity. “Cami Anderson set up the plan and we think Cerf was brought in to close the deal for (Gov. Chris) Christie.”
In fact, the “One Newark” plan was really Cerf’s brainchild when he ran a private consulting firm known as Global Education Advisers that was paid $500,000 to come up with a plan that closed public schools and increased the number of privately-operated charters. Then Christie made Cerf his state education commissioner and Cerf appointed Cami Anderson, a former political operative for former Mayor Cory Booker, to be superintendent.
The problem, of course, is that the board does not now have the power to end “One Newark,” or any other policy imposed by the 20-year-old state regime. Cerf can simply veto what the board does. Cerf—and Christie—already have ignored a resolution passed by the board at its last public meeting rejecting Cerf’s appointment and calling for the appointment of Roger Leon, an assistant superintendent, as the schools chief.
The enrollment plan isn’t the only state policy the board wants ended. Its members have been critical of the way the state administration handled a resignation payout to former Assistant Superintendent Tiffany Hardrick, a close associate of Anderson. At the last board meeting, members said they would push for a resolution demanding the resignation of Vanessa Rodriguez, the district’s personnel officer—and one of the chief architects of the state’s policies.
Board members also have been critical of policies that have punished teachers by transferring them to other schools and the assignment of other teachers to work unrelated to their credentials as so-called “educators without positions,” or EWPs. The state administration has spent tens of millions of dollars a year to keep the teachers on the payroll.
Cerf’s veto power isn’t the only complication faced by the board members. He clearly will play a role in determining when local control will be returned to Newark—and what the district will look like when and if it is. He has pressed for expansion of charter schools for most of his career and was a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Public Charter Schools. He is a former business partner of Tim Carden, who heads the TEAM Academy charter schools in Newark.
Cerf also holds the power as the fifth Christie-appointed member of a nine-member committee, the Newark Educational Success Board (NESB), that is supposed to determine the future of local school control in the city. Another of NESB’s members, Donald Katz, the CEO of Audible, Inc., is, like Cerf, a nationally-known charter advocate and a member of the national board of directors of Uncommon Schools, a chain of charters with schools in Newark.
Cerf’s appointment and NESB’s creation all were part of a deal reached between Baraka and Christie in June that led to Anderson’s departure and a promise of a return to local control. In a recent television interview, Christie said he “hoped” that “ultimately” local control could be returned to the city, hardly an iron-clad promise. The agreement calls for the development by June of a plan for return to local control.
Compared to their outspokenness in criticizing Anderson, board members have not criticized Cerf, although, as Christie’s state education commissioner and Anderson’s boss for three years, Cerf was responsible for many of the problems facing the board now. They didn’t reveal in the last public session that they met with Cerf August 1 to discuss future policies. Clearly, the days of bitterness and rancor between the locally elected board and the state-appointed superintendent are over.