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As we approach the end of the school year, it’s worth looking back at a pattern that has emerged regarding Newark superintendent Roger Leon. While Newark district students fall further and further behind—currently only 13% of third-graders can read on grade-level—Leon is only looking at his wallet.
Or, really, the taxpayers’ wallets.
Think about it. Right now Leon isn’t talking about our kids, who were forced into remote instruction from the time schools closed in March 2020 until the district reopened in September 2021. Instead he’s obsessed with getting local taxpayers to foot the bill for a TWO and a Half BILLION DOLLAR bond so he can build new school buildings.
As the Star-Ledger Editorial Board wrote last week,
The Superintendent won’t say why he wants a massive building project like this at a time when he has excess capacity in many of his schools, some of which are vastly under-enrolled. Has he done everything he can to address the need in his district, before asking Newark taxpayers to cough up $2.5 billion in new debt?
Here’s the thing: we don’t know why Leon is going to demand that voters approve a $2.5 billion bond. We don’t have any sense of his priorities, or that of the school board’s (which seems to rubber-stamp everything he asks for). We don’t know why Leon doesn’t believe his most important job is addressing the many needs of district students who are falling dangerously behind in their academic growth, a sure ticket to the school-to-prison pipeline.
Instead, Leon is operating in his own private silo, completely out of touch with what Newark residents think about this whole ridiculous scheme.
To Roger, everything is about money.
Let’s look at the past year. Leon has:
- Spent over a million dollars of taxpayer money on lawsuits to try to grab back buildings the district doesn’t need.
- Used federal COVID money–everyone’s tax money— on floor-polishers and inspirational videos.
- Refused to pare down his incredibly top-heavy Central Office.
- Spent our money on games with a NYC-based private investment firm to build a high school in the East Ward.
- Convinced the school board to renegotiate and extend his contract—probably illegally and starting at almost $300K a year plus generous benefits—all behind the public’s back, in violation of state statute.
The National Parents Union tweeted,
And this is all just in the last year! Leon operates like an emperor, not a superintendent. He’s building out his empire, ignoring the desperate learning needs of our children. According to the Star-Ledger, Mayor Ras Baraka and City Councilman Anibal Ramos can’t understand what he’s doing either. Neither can David Sciarra of the Education Law Center, who represented Newark families in the famous Abbott cases, which require the state to pay for our school buildings, not local residents.
Here’s Mayor Baraka: “Leon hasn’t shared with me any intention to initiate a $2 billion repair project. But if he’s considering it, there obviously would have to be a comprehensive discussion with the community and elected officials before anything was put in place toward a ballet vote.”
Here’s Councilman Ramos: “I also wanted to know why are you guys fighting to get some of these properties back that three-four years ago everybody agreed we needed to unload because there’s no purpose for them? And now you’re spending God-knows-what in attorney fees and the Housing Authority is spending money defending itself in the process, which is public money.”
Leon doesn’t care about discussions or accountability to families and taxpayers. . His personal enrichment takes precedence, even at the expense of our children’s learning and the financial burdens we carry.
How many more of his antics will we tolerate? Isn’t it time for us to take back our school district?