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7-5-12 Education Issues in the News

Star Ledger- N.J. Senate president expresses concern about politics in school districts

Published: Tuesday, July 03, 2012, 3:43 PM     Updated: Tuesday, July 03, 2012, 5:55 PM

 By Matt Friedman/Statehouse Bureau 

NEWARK — If Gov. Chris Christie and public education reformers are looking for someone to blame for keeping teachers’ seniority protections intact, they should look at Senate President Stephen Sweeney.

“I’m the one that stopped the seniority. I own it. And I did it for a reason: My concern was more about the politics that take place in schools,” Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said today during a wide-ranging sit down with The Star-Ledger’s editorial board.

The Legislature last week sent Gov. Chris Christie an overhaul of the teacher tenure system, but it did not include a core plank supported by Christie and many people who pushed for the bill: The elimination of seniority protections for teachers during layoffs.

Sweeney said the Elizabeth Board of Education — under fire for alleged patronage, nepotism and political shakedowns outlined in Star-Ledger reports — shows why seniority is needed.

“There’s a lot of politics that have entered school districts now. More than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime,” he said. “It seems that’s the new frontier for patronage.”

Sweeney also said that he is renewing his push for a bill that would penalize towns who don’t share services if a state commission recommends they do. Under the legislation, towns would lose the amount of state aid that the commission determined they’d save.

“I’m ready to move the bill in my house. I’m close. I’ve been working on it. Honestly it’s in the Assembly. They haven’t done anything with hit. I’m going to make a push to convince the Assembly to get on the same page as us,” he said.

Sweeney said the 2 percent property tax cap enacted two years ago has caused towns to look at sharing more services. If he had to do it again, Sweeney said, he’s push for a zero percent cap.

“Doing 2 percent I thought was being fair, but the resistance to sharing services is so great, should have made it zero,” he said.

Sweeney’s sit down comes one day after Christie called the Senate and Assembly into special session to push them to immediately vote for an income tax credit based on property taxes.

Democrats set aside $183 million for tax cuts in the budget they passed last week, but they delayed enacting the cut until they see if revenue collections meet Christie’s optimistic projections.

Sweeney said he’s “pretty confident they’re going to come up short,” but did not say how close they need to be to Christie’s projections for them to enact a tax cut.

“I’m hoping his numbers come true and if they come true we’ll have a tax cut. If we have a $1 billion shortfall or an $800 million shortfall — you can’t cut taxes if you’re that deep in the hole,” he said.

Sweeney stressed that the tax cut Christie pushed would not take effect until next year anyway.

“We really need the press to report that what (Christie) is talking about is not true,” said Sweeney. “I could have passed the language of the tax cut three months ago. It doesn’t happen until next year.”


Star Ledger - Newark school boss overrules advisory board, will lease 5 buildings to charter schools

Published: Thursday, July 05, 2012, 6:45 AM     Updated: Thursday, July 05, 2012, 6:58 AM

 By Jessica Calefati

NEWARK — Newark’s top education official has overruled the wishes of the district’s advisory school board and will lease five district-owned facilities to charter schools, a district spokeswoman said.

Because the district is state controlled, virtually any decision made by the district’s elected school board can be overturned by Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson or acting state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.

On Monday, the board voted to strike down four of the five proposed lease agreements after deciding at an earlier meeting to table balloting. Many parents and community leaders oppose the leases.

Anderson said the rental agreements are essential and will generate "much needed revenue" that the district can invest in the roughly 40,000 traditional public school students it serves. The five leases will bring the district $500,000 to $700,000 a year.

"Our singular focus remains working towards the day when every single Newark student attends a school that puts them on the path to college readiness — regardless of the type of school," Anderson said in a statement.

Five charters, Paulo Freire, Newark Legacy, 100 Legacy Academy, Team Academy and North Star Academy, will lease facilities previously known as Burnet Street School, Madison School, West Side NAF Academy, Eighteenth Avenue School and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School starting next school year.

The only lease agreement the board did not contest was that of Paulo Freire Charter School, whose chief is former Science Park High School teacher Tauheedah Baker-Jones. The board voted unanimously to approve its lease of space at Burnet Street School.

School board member Marques-Aquil Lewis said the board voted against some leases because Anderson hadn’t provided information about agreements that allowed charters to share space with district school students this past year.

"How can we vote on these leases when we don’t know the results from last year?" he asked. "This decision is a clear sign of disrespect to the community."

Lewis added the board plans to seek legal advice about reversing Anderson’s decision.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker scolded the board for striking down most of the leases and said he supports Anderson’s decision.

"We have an opportunity to expand high-quality school options for children and create revenue for the district, yet we continue to let the interest of adults get in the way of the interest of our kids," he said.

Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, said Anderson should be "applauded for making the tough decision to veto the school advisory board."

In recent years, the district has been losing droves of students to a growing number of Newark charter schools, leaving it with many partially empty school buildings. According to an analysis provided by the district, as many as 8,000 seats were open in the district this past school year.

But before Anderson would consider leasing space to charters, she required the schools to make two pledges — to share academic-achievement data with the district and enroll special-needs and low-income students. Charter schools typically enroll fewer of those students than traditional public schools.

Dozens of angry, frustrated parents and community leaders, however, spoke against the leases at Monday’s advisory school board meeting, making a final plea that the arrangements are unfair to students in regular district schools. Three facilities being leased housed schools that Anderson closed last month because of low test scores and enrollment.

Some of the charters, including Team Academy, are planning multimillion-dollar renovations of their leased facilities that the district has said it could never afford.


Philadelphia Inquirer - State findings could set back charter's plans in Camden

July 04, 2012|By Claudia Vargas, Inquirer Staff Writer


A request by LEAP Academy University Charter Schools to expand enrollment at a planned campus in Camden's Cramer Hill neighborhood has hit a bump after findings by the state Department of Education that the charter mismanaged thousands of dollars in federal funds.

According to a state audit report issued May 21, LEAP owed the Education Department $136,368 for payments it received for non-allowable expenses during the 2009-10 school year.

A check for the full amount was mailed to the state on Tuesday, said Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, LEAP's founder and chairwoman.http://articles.philly.com/images/pixel.gif

Of Camden's seven charter schools, LEAP has been among the top recipients of Title I funds, given to public schools with a high percentage of poor students through the federal No Child Left Behind program.

The state administers the money in a reimbursement-type system that requires school administrators to submit expense verifications.

LEAP was budgeted to receive $640,058 in the 2009-10 year. The audit was triggered when state officials compared LEAP's reimbursement receipts to a final report by the charter school that included expenses prohibited under Title I rules.

The report "did not match what had been requested via reimbursement," Education Department spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said. A review of the 2010-11 school year is pending, she said.

In 2010, LEAP sought an amendment to its state charter to open a campus in Cramer Hill in August 2014. A February request to increase enrollment at the planned school was denied pending results of the investigation into financial mismanagement, according to a letter dated April 4 from acting state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.

LEAP officials expressed confidence Tuesday that the issue would be resolved quickly.

"We have such a large waiting list that we put in" for permission to accept more students, Bonilla-Santiago said. "We don't need it until 2016, but would like to have it."

Bonilla-Santiago blamed the mismanagement of funds on a former business administrator whom she declined to name.

According to federal rules, 5 percent of Title I grant money can go to toward administrative salaries. LEAP was entitled to $32,003 for the salaries in the 2009-10 year, but it requested and received $114,601 to help pay for three administrative positions.

About $32,000 in requested reimbursements were accompanied by no detailed expense records. The school also spent about $22,000 on field trips, which the state auditors classified as amusement and ruled ineligible for Title I funds.

LEAP turned in a corrective action plan to the state on Friday, Bonilla-Santiago said.

Though the school wanted to appeal some of the findings - including the exclusion of some field trips, which administrators said were for educational purposes - the charter's board of trustees decided it wasn't worth the fight, said Wanda Garcia, liaison to the LEAP Academy board.

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