ANALYSIS: Newark Residents Get Gaslighted While (Most of) Their School Board Bows to Superintendent Leon

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What happened at last night’s Newark School Board meeting?

  • The Board of Education plowed ahead with a clandestine renewal of Superintendent Roger Leon’s contract that now won’t expire until June 30, 2028. The Board, whose job it is to represent the public, ignored their concerns instead.
  • Back in May 2019 the Board extended Leon’s contract, dated 2018, until 2023 even though it didn’t expire until 2021. This extension occurred during a sparsely-attended meeting where the formal agenda made no note of this intended action, even though board members still had two full years to evaluate Leon’s performance before the contract’s renewal date. Then last night the Board extended the contract for an additional five years.
  • State code clearly states the process by which a New Jersey school board can renew a superintendent:

A board of education shall not renegotiate, extend, amend, or otherwise alter the terms of a contract with a superintendent of schools, assistant superintendent of schools, or school business administrator, unless notice is provided to the public at least 30 days prior to the scheduled action by the board.  The board shall also hold a public hearing and shall not take any action on the matter until the hearing has been held.  The board shall provide the public with at least 10 days’ notice of the public hearing.

  • Yet there was no “notice provided to the public. ” There was no “public hearing.” While there have been three Newark school board meetings just in the last week, the Board refuses to engage with the public. (Various education advocates like Shennell McCloud and Jasmine Morrison are pleading with the Murphy Administration’s Commissioner of Education to intervene. NJ Ed Report has asked the the press office of the Education Department to comment. If it does, we will amend this article.)
  • At last night’s meeting, board member Crystal Williams “introduced a motion to issue a letter of nonrenewal to León before Jan. 31 ‘in order to reassess his contract’ and ‘give the public the opportunity to voice their concerns.’ But the motion died for lack of a second by any of the other eight members of the Newark Board of Education.”  She was silenced and shouted over, just like Newark residents whom the Board is supposed to represent. 
  • The New Jersey School Boards Association explains the role of the school board is “to represent the concerns of the citizens, taxpayers, and parents.” The Newark School Board utterly failed to represent its constituents. NJSBA always instructs school board members that their most important responsibility is hiring and evaluating the superintendent according to state law. This school board appears to have other priorities.
  • Instead of listening to the public, the Newark School Board chose to gaslight them. Here’s one member, Flohisha Johnson: 

I stand behind my superintendent because you know why? I elected him into this office and we appointed him as a board, as a whole, and we don’t have a problem with him.

  • It’s unclear if these closet renewals are legal. According to state law, contracts can be renewed during the life of the contract but no contract can be renewed for more than five years. Yet  the Board has, in effect, extended Leon’s contract by ten years, from 2018-2028. 
  • It’s also unclear if the school board has asked Leon for his strategy to raise student achievement. Currently only 21% of Black children in district schools can read grade level texts and only 8% can do grade-level math. This data doesn’t correlate with the Strategic Plan’s claim that the majority of district schools are “sustaining or improving performance ( p.22).”

Here is what Senator Vin Gopal, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, thinks of this ignominious charade:

“The public should get notice before superintendent contracts are renewed.”

Here is what Newark residents think of their educational leaders:

Shennell McCloud, chief executive officer of Newark-based Project Ready:  “What it looks like is our community is being kept in the dark. What it feels like is that I am not being trusted as a community member in doing my part in supporting you. And what it sounds like is unethical practices.”

Denise Cole, Newark parent and advocate: “The superintendent’s contract may have automatically renewed but you all still have to write a contract. You still have to present that contract before us to comment. I comment now.” 

Newark parent  Dr. Viva White: “I do not recall any public participation about your contract. But we need to know how it was an automatic renewal. I don’t know how that happened.” 


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