Dear NJ Taxpayers: Did You Know You’re Financing Newark School District’s Land Grab?

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The Newark Board of Education has paid over one million dollars in legal fees since last June as it continues its quest, led by Superintendent Roger Leon, to claw back two ramshackle school buildings that the district doesn’t need.

That’s according to new reporting from Tapinto’s Mark Bonamo who, through an Open Public Records Request, received the latest totals (see above) paid to law firms as the Board tries buy back the two old buildings even though “a third of Newark’s schools are at least one third under enrolled–and some more than half empty.” In fact, the district’s 35,320 students already have access to 66 schools, far more space per pupil than similar districts.  That’s one reason why in 2016 former Superintendent Chris Cerf sold 12 unused dilapidated school buildings, among them Maple Street School and State Street School. The other reason was Cerf needed to raise revenue for the fiscally-stricken district, not Leon’s concern with his $1.2 billion annual budget.

But fiscal matters and actual student needs are no barrier to Leon’s crusade to fatten his real estate portfolio. So what if Friends of KIPP, the non-profit that supports the charter network, already has rights to Maple Street School for a long-planned and necessary expansion? Who cares if the plans for State Street School involve a new home for the Newark Boys Chorus? Roger wants them back. 

That’s why state and city taxpayers have forked over $1.07 million to two law firms, Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti, Sattiraju & Tharney. 

That’s not all we’re being soaked for: state taxpayers mostly fund the Newark Housing Authority, which helped Cerf sell the two old buildings and is now being sued by Newark Public Schools. According to Bonamo, as of last June NHA had $233,000 in legal expenses due to the current litigation.

Newark Public Schools didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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