10-22-12 Impact - Nov school board elections...Interaction - Facebook and Newark Contract
Philadelphia Inquirer-AP- Move to Nov. has major effect on N.J. school races…Candidates will now have to scramble for attention amid higher- profile national races

NJ Spotlight - Facebook Foundation Turns Corner with Contribution to Newark Contract…On eve of agreement, head of Foundation for Newark's Future talks about organization’s work so far

Posted: Mon, Oct. 22, 2012, 3:01 AM

Philadelphia Inquirer-AP-  Move to Nov. has major effect on N.J. school races…Candidates will now have to scramble for attention amid higher- profile national races.

By Geoff Mulvihill

Associated Press

TRENTON - New Jersey school board candidates, who typically spend just a few hundred dollars per election, are finding it's a different world this year.

Instead of being at the top of the ballot in an April school-only election, most now find themselves in obscure corners of ballots that include Mitt Romney and President Obama, a couple of guys spending hundreds of millions of dollars on their campaigns.

One board candidate says the challenge now is not getting people to the polls; it's getting those who do go to remember their local elections.

And a political consultant says he's getting inquiries from board candidates asking whether it's time to make their campaigns a bit more professional, with real fund-raising efforts and ad campaigns.

"How many people will see it on the ballot?" asked JoAnn Young, a Pennsauken candidate.

The change comes from a state law adopted last year that allows districts to move their elections to November from April, with two big incentives.

Districts have to pay for poll workers and other election costs in April; those that shift to November can let their county election officials pick up the cost.

And by moving to November, districts no longer are required to let voters approve their budget plans, so long as any property tax increases don't exceed 2 percent.

A total of 468 school districts are holding November elections; just 73 stuck with April this year. Nearly 50 other districts don't hold school elections because they are under state control or have appointed rather than elected school boards.

School board members generally have three-year terms and elect about one-third of their members each year.

Critics of the moves fear the elections, technically nonpartisan, could become typical Democrat-Republican matchups. And some lament the loss of direct voter say on the budgets, derived from the state's highest-in-the-nation property tax bills, which average $7,600 annually.

Once the switches were made, the complaints moved from philosophical to practical.

Mike Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said his group had fielded calls from would-be candidates who missed the deadline to run.

For April elections, candidates must declare in February, just a few months before voting.

For the general November ballot, they have to sign up by June.

Yaple says he suspected that might be one reason the number of candidates is down a bit - 1,813 running for 1,440 seats, or 1.26 candidates per spot. That's down from about 1.4 in recent years.

The community newspapers that usually cover school board elections are having trouble finding room for the candidates among those running for municipal and county government posts.

Monmouth University political scientist Patrick Murray said the uncontested nature of so many school elections means more intense campaigns are unlikely to result from the move to November.

"It doesn't really matter which day they have them on," he said. "Whoever's on the ballot gets elected."

But Tony Gallotto, a Newark political consultant, said school board members had begun calling to seek advice about holding fund-raisers and printing campaign literature.

"They've never run a real campaign," he said.

Young, the Pennsauken school board challenger, is a Republican who says party politics have been involved in her heavily Democratic town for a few years already.

But she is still running a low-tech race. The tools she has used so far: business cards, some yard signs, and a website. She said her opponents, who did not return messages seeking interviews, did not seem to be doing more than that, either.

NJ Spotlight - Facebook Foundation Turns Corner with Contribution to Newark Contract…On eve of agreement, head of Foundation for Newark's Future talks about organization’s work so far

By John Mooney, October 22, 2012 in Education|

The Foundation for Newark’s Future, the organization created to distribute Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark schools, hasn't exactly set the world ablaze.

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Slow and methodical may be the best way to characterize its two-year ramp-up. And while it has committed $16 million to worthy projects -- such as grants to new schools and teachers -- none were exactly headline-grabbing.

All that just changed.

The centerpiece of the new five-year contract between the state-run district and the Newark Teachers Union is the provision that directly ties teacher raises to positive evaluations each year -- with bonuses of up to $12,500 awarded to exemplary teachers working in the toughest schools and fields.

The foundation will be paying those bonuses, as well as other personnel costs. Although an exact amount has not yet been revealed, district officials say it could reach $50 million.

Nothing is set in stone at this point. The contract still needs to be approved by the union's rank and file, who are slated to vote next week. Until then, FNF officials have said they do not want to speak publicly about the agreement or their contribution to it.

But in an interview earlier this month, while the deal was being hammered out, FNF chief executive Greg Taylor sat down with NJ Spotlight. He gave some hints about the foundation's thinking and talked about the pace of its work so far, characterizing it as a systematic and “not a race.”

Question: The Zuckerberg gift requires a full match, and at two years you have raised only about half the match. Are you on track to reach the full amount?

Answer: I am confident that we will raise the full match. Every day we are working hard toward it, we really are, and my attitude is it’s over the length of time of the organization. We started in September 2010, and over the lifetime of the organization, we will continue to fundraise. But I'm very optimistic we'll get there.

Q: Beyond the contract, what is on the horizon for the FNF?

A: We are really looking to work and partner with the superintendent [Cami Anderson] in how to provide high-quality professional development for teachers. This is clearly her wheelhouse; she has a very aggressive and strong plan that we're excited to be part of.

Q: Do you see your investments more geared to system-wide investments than to individual schools or programs?

A: We do think it is important to keep a systems focus, a district-wide focus. That does not mean there aren't individual programs that we'll invest in, but it is those that are dramatically improving how the system operates. The manner in which teachers are trained and supported, the manner in which a network of schools redesign themselves, how principals are trained and placed, those are system investments, as opposed to individual, programmatic ones.

Q: What’s the status with charter school investments and your earlier plans to make a large contribution to the Newark Charter School Fund, an umbrella organization for supporting the charters in the city?

A: We are working in partnership with Charter Fund, and we are still working out what that partnership looks like. It is premature to talk about what any revenue looks like at this point in time.

Q: You still face the criticism that the foundation’s work has taken too long to make an impact. How do you address that?

A: I deeply respect where the depth of the need and urgency in this community and the resources that we have to steward. I deeply respect the concern as to how quickly these dollars are being invested in the community.

But it is not a race, and we are very optimistic for a number of investments we have on the horizon that will have transformational change in this community. We are very optimistic what we are working toward will have lasting change over time, and we want to make sure those large investments are well researched, well reasoned, and that takes some time.

But I do want to respect the sentiment that says the need is now in this community, and how are you responding to it? I share that sentiment.

Q: Do you fear losing the community’s support?


A: We are very excited about the recently established community advisory board, they have some of the most important leaders in the community, and they have expressed these sentiments. But I don’t fear losing the community. I think they are a very good representation of what's going on.

Q: But didn’t that take two years to create?


A: It's about pulling together a slate of leaders who really represent the broad needs of the community, and that network will prove very valuable as we move forward in regards to understanding community needs, the history of this community, and what's happening in terms of investment possibilities we can make. The community advisory board will be central to all of that.


Q: How’s your relationship with the district and superintendent Anderson?


A: We have a very strong relationship with the district, as with many of our partners. A good, strong relationship doesn’t mean we don’t debate the issues and we don’t have rigorous dialogue as we have meetings of the minds about strategies and directions we are going. But absolutely, we are fundamentally supportive of the superintendent's leadership.


Q: Would Anderson say the same?


A: I do think she would say the same.

The resources we have, the need is great, and I know that part of the challenge is how do we move and invest these resources at the speed of life, if you will, is a concern that a lot of folks have.

I'm sure if the superintendent had her way, this would be a quicker investment. But part of the reason why you are partners with someone is you can respectfully disagree and you can have exchange at the strategy side.

But at the headline level, at the goal level, and I would argue at much of the execution level, we are absolutely supportive of the direction of the district and that these resources have been well invested at this point.