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It depends upon whom you ask. The latest wranglings over the return of local control to Newark Public Schools is predicated on an agreement between Gov. Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to have a committee of nine — five chosen by Christie, four chosen by Baraka — create a transition plan after 20 years of state control of New Jersey’s largest school district. The committee is called the Newark Educational Success Board.
From NJ Spotlight:
The governor’s appointments are Cerf, a longtime ally who awaits expected approval by the state Board of Education to take over the district; state Higher Education Secretary Rochelle Hendricks, also a Christie appointee; former Verizon CEO Al Koeppe, an outspoken business leader; Donald Katz, founder and CEO of Audible Inc., a Newark-based company; and Newark Trust for Education president Ross Danis.
The mayor’s appointees are the Rev. Perry Simmons of the Abyssinia Baptist Church in Newark; Mary Bennett, the former principal of Newark’s Shabazz High School; Grace Sergio, a parent activist from the city’s South Ward; and Jose Leonardo, a senior at Science Park High School and president of the Newark Students Union.
Mayor Baraka took some flack for agreeing to the plan and issuing a joint statement with the Governor which says, in part, “[i]t is with great pride that we, the Mayor of Newark and the Governor of New Jersey, come together to establish a shared vision for empowering the people of Newark to make decisions over their schools, while sustaining and growing a culture of high educational expectations, accountability and results in the city.”
Bob Braun, Baraka’s cheerleader-in-chief, insisted that the Mayor had been “played.” Baraka, lashing back, accused Braun of “liberal paternalism,” a fair criticism. And, really, what choice did Baraka have? Newark Public Schools consistently fails N.J.’s accountability metric called QSAC (although it recently passed the section on fiscal accountability) and QSAC, according to state statute, is the lever for return of local control.
And, really, no one’s being “played” here. Even back in 1995 when the state first took over Newark Public Schools, critics insisted that the move was politically motivated. We need only listen to Robert Curvin, Newark historian and civil rights leader, who told the Star Ledger in April,
The state compliance investigation revealed horrors that in my mind were shameful and manifested a pitiful lack of concern on the part of leaders throughout the system for the children, Anyone who argues that the state takeover had nothing to do with the quality of education in Newark at the time is simply not telling the truth or is intentionally ignorant.”
Certainly, Chris Cerf has his work cut out for him, primarily in gaining trust of the community. But the Mayor’s agreement to collaborate is the only possible trajectory towards regaining local control. As such, he’s showing leadership, not gullibility.