Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka, has an op-ed in this morning’s NY Times that condemns New Jersey’s 19 year state control of Newark’s public schools and the malfunctioning school reform plan imposed this fall by Governor Chris Christie’s overseer superintendent Cami Anderson. Baraka pleads for federal intervention to restore authority for Newark’s schools to the mayor temporarily, and as soon as possible, “to return control to an elected school board with full powers.” Newark has an elected school board, but under state control, the locally elected school board lacks any authority to govern the district. Cami Anderson has refused for several months even to attend its meetings.
Last spring Governor Christie publicly insulted the parents and citizens of Newark when he declared, “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark — not them.”
Baraka describes how poorly schools have functioned this fall since Anderson’s One Newark school choice plan was launched: “Consider the reports I’ve received of Barringer High School (formerly Newark High School). Three weeks into the school year, students still did not have schedules. Students who had just arrived in this country and did not speak English sat for days in the school library without placement or instruction. Seniors were placed in classes they had already taken, missing the requirements they’d need to graduate. Even the school lunch system broke down, with students served bread and cheese in lieu of hot meals.”
Neither did One Newark school choice work as promised: “Under One Newark’s universal enrollment scheme, a secret algorithm determined what school was the ‘best fit’ for each child. Often, this ended up placing each child in a family in a different school, none of which was the neighborhood school the parents chose… To cap it all, last year the school system operated with a deficit of $58 million.”
Baraka reports that he has “written to the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights in support of the lawsuits that parents, students, advocates and educators in our city have brought, requesting that the federal government intercede.”
Meanwhile early last week, Superintendent Cami Anderson delivered a two-hour state-of-the-schools presentation to defend the launch earlier this fall of One Newark and to brag about what she says is improved student achievement. However, the New Jersey Spotlight reports that, “the details to back up her arguments and claims have been more elusive. Anderson was repeatedly asked Tuesday for actual data, including the district’s latest results on the state’s testing for 2013-14. She said those results are available on the district’s website, but despite requests to provide the links, nothing has been forthcoming from her office two days later.”
The New Jersey Spotlight also explains that Anderson, “has been at odds with her locally elected school board since her arrival in 2011. Last month, after no-confidence votes and calls for her resignation, the board voted almost unanimously to freeze her pay and block other initiatives. She hasn’t attended a public board meeting in months. Meanwhile, protests continue from activists and student groups opposed to the “One Newark” reorganization plan, including one on Monday in support of a federal civil-rights complaint alleging that closing and consolidation of schools disproportionately hurt black and Hispanic students and families.”
Ras Baraka was elected mayor by an overwhelming margin last spring after a campaign whose central issue was return of democratic control of the school district to Newark’s citizens. Before he ran for mayor, Baraka was a much respected high school principal in Newark.
I urge you to read Mayor Baraka’s commentary in this morning’s NY Times. This blog has extensively covered the state’s autocratic imposition of Cami Anderson’s One Newark school choice plan on the city’s schools here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.