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It’s not often that I get a chance to cheer for New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan. For the most part she’s followed in her predecessor Lamont Repollet’s footsteps, continuing his “64 Floor” strategy of dismantling high standards for students in order to perpetuate the pretense that our state school system is worth the propaganda pressed by the state teacher’s union and refusing to listen to parents’ pleas for alternatives to traditional school districts. Two examples: last spring, under her leadership, the DOE changed the definition of a high school diploma from “college and career-ready” to “high school graduation-ready,” whatever that means, and declined to approve the vast majority of applications for new charter schools.
However, according to a new report from Tapinto Newark, last October Allen-McMillan overturned a ruling from an administrative law judge that dismissed a case pressed by a non-profit for KIPP Public Charter Schools in Newark. The non-profit, Friends of Team, which helps the network with facilities (in NJ, charter schools get no facilities aid), argues that in October 2020 Newark Superintendent Roger León failed to get School Board approval “through a public resolution and full-board vote” for a “costly campaign to get back a building that the Newark Board of Education sold in 2017.” This building was the Maple Avenue School, now called KIPP Seek, which currently educates 500 K-4th grade students. In addition, León didn’t bother updating the district’s Long Range Facilities Plan until last January to include this repurchase of a formerly-sold building.
León can’t do that. No superintendent can.
School board agendas are chock-full of all sorts of “superintendent recommendations,” from the stipend for the middle school basketball coach to a new boiler for a building, that are just that—“recommendations”—until the board approves them through a public vote. Otherwise, how would the public know what’s going on? How would the duly-elected board members? Yet according to TapInto, the lawyers for the district admitted that León “did not seek a board resolution” that would allow the district to move forward with a lawsuit against Friends of Team, the Newark Housing Authority, and the developer who purchased the old Maple Avenue School. The administrative law judge dismissed the case because he said Friends of Team didn’t file its lawsuit in a “timely” manner. Allen-McMillan, in overturning that dismissal, said “payment for legal services for the Superior Court litigation is presumably ongoing, and if petitioner [Friends of Team] is correct that those payments are being made in violation of school laws, each one could give rise to a new cause of action.”
As we reported last week, León has been attempting to “claw back” previously-sold school buildings, mostly to stifle the city’s public charter sector, which sometimes buys these old buildings and renovates them for student use. There’s a sense in which superintendents of large urban districts take on the role of real estate developers, buying and selling properties. Yet León seems to have taken this task to a whole new level.
That might be fine if he had the approval of his school board, who serve as representatives for Newark residents. According to Tapinto, he failed to do so, all while putting state and local taxpayers on the hook for the repurchase of the Maple Avenue school for $100 million, a renovation that will cost an estimated $60 million, and current litigation topping one million dollars. Anyone paying attention?
Here is a statement from Friends of Team
At Mr. Leon’s direction, Newark Board of Education is attempting an end-run around laws that are designed to compel public deliberations and state oversight over school district facility projects with costs which are borne by the public for generations. Mr. Leon’s conduct contradicts the indispensable role the legislature gives boards of education to decide matters in full view of its community stakeholders.