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5-13-14 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - CAMDEN TEACHERS GET BAD NEWS: MORE THAN 300 LAYOFFS BY END OF SCHOOL YEAR...State-appointed superintendent drowned out while trying to deliver the news at advisory board meeting

NJ Spotlight - EXPLAINER: STATE CONTROL OF LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS COMES UNDER FIRE IN THIRD DECADE...Once viewed as a pioneering initiative, New Jersey’s approach now assailed by many as usurping community’s role

NJ Spotlight - IN NEWARK, NEW YORKER MAGAZINE GRABS ATTENTION OF EDUCATORS, POLITICOS...Magazine publishes tale of unlikely partnership between Cory Booker, Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Christie

NJ Spotlight - CAMDEN TEACHERS GET BAD NEWS: MORE THAN 300 LAYOFFS BY END OF SCHOOL YEAR

JOHN MOONEY | MAY 13, 2014

State-appointed superintendent drowned out while trying to deliver the news at advisory board meeting

Camden’s advisory board meeting last night exploded in protest, as the state-appointed superintendent announced that more than 300 teachers, administrators, and other staff would be laid off at the end of the school year.

The layoffs had been expected, since superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard had said there would need to be widespread reductions to help what he maintains is a $75 million budget deficit.

But he was initially drowned out while trying to explain the cuts -- including by a bullhorn -- and instead sat through more than 30 angry and emotional teachers and others questioning the criteria of the layoffs, the nature of the deficit that is forcing them, and the vast expansion of charter schools that are contributing to the cuts.

Several were seen leaving the meeting in tears after apparently finding their names on the 15-page list of nonrenewals and reductions in force (RIF).

Distributed at the special meeting as part of the human resources report, it included 241 school-based positions, including 201 teachers, and 94 central office positions. The bulk of the cuts were in general education positions, which are suffering from enrollment drops in the district.

Christina Passwater, a literacy teacher at Whittier Elementary School, was among them. She said she was the school’s recent teacher of the year, with the highest evaluations, and saw significant gains in student assessments. She read a letter from a grandmother praising the teacher’s work for her children.

Christina Bianca, a teacher in the district for eight years, said looking at her record will show she has received all satisfactory and distinguished ratings, and met all the student performance goals that have become the latest requirement, too.

“But what you wont find out is I arrive early every day, I work Saturdays and summer programs, and the countless times I have driven to houses to deliver missing assignments and the emails and letters and cards from parents thanking me,” she said.

“I love these kids, that what I am,” she said, choking up. “Every child deserves a champion. I am that champion and yet today I’m RIF’d.”

Rouhanifard, finally speaking at the end to a smaller and quieter crowd, said the budget provided little options.

“We have to grapple with the realities of our budget, while at the same time acknowledging the tremendously successful things happening in many of our classrooms,” he said.

But he said the district was required to look at specific positions, and then apply strict requirements that say layoffs be determined by seniority. He said special education positions were spared, as were social workers and other support positions.

“It is incredibly frustrating to see high-potential staff members being affected,” he said. “In those instances, it is adhering to state law.

“This was an excruciating process and while many may think we did this willy-nilly, but we took every measure possible to take in feedback and to what our students need.”

 

NJ Spotlight - EXPLAINER: STATE CONTROL OF LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS COMES UNDER FIRE IN THIRD DECADE

JOHN MOONEY | MAY 13, 2014

Once viewed as a pioneering initiative, New Jersey’s approach now assailed by many as usurping community’s role

Trailblazing law: New Jersey was the first state to take over a school district, when it passed legislation in 1987 authorizing the state’s takeover of Jersey City schools the following year. The state went on to take over operations of the Paterson and Newark schools in 1991 and 1995, respectively, and last year took control of Camden schools.

Background: The early move toward state takeovers of troubled schools was more about alleged mismanagement and even corruption in these districts, but it also coincided with school and student achievement levels that were among the worst in the state.

Vast powers, wide opposition: The state’s greatest authority is the ability to appoint a superintendent to run the district, relegating the local school board to advisory status. Those superintendents have often become lighting rods for local frustrations, especially in Newark, where current Superintendent Cami Anderson has come under intense fire from local leaders and union activists.

The exit strategy: Even in the early years of the takeovers, the state struggled with how to relinquish controls once things improved. It continues to be the focal point of debate to this day.

Status report: Jersey City has won back some controls, starting in 2007. But Paterson and Newark both remain under full state control after two decades or more; each has challenged the state’s authority in court but they have yet to win back any authority.

Measures of success: Much of the recent debate has been over the state’s current monitoring system, the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC), and how the Christie administration has used it to retain controls.

Under the system, which is meant to provide an exit strategy, local districts are to be returned controls over the five specific areas of fiscal, personnel, operations, governance and instruction as they reach 80 percent of the benchmarks for each. But even in cases where 80 percent is reached, the Christie administration has kept some controls, arguing that improvements have not been sustained.

Other interventions: In 2007, the state enacted legislation that permits appointment of a fiscal monitor to oversee a school district’s budget, purchasing and personnel practices. The state currently has monitors in seven districts, including one recently appointed in Lakewood.

What’s next: While the legal challenges haven’t achieved much, political pressure has brought some conciliatory language from the Christie administration, albeit no formal concessions as yet. Acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe recently said that he believes the exit path needs to be made clearer. And legislators have pressed for revisions in the law that would require returning control to districts when they hit the QSAC benchmarks, rather than being at the discretion of the commissioner.

The historic law: For the record, here’s the actual statute adopted in 1987:

Title 18A:7A-34. Creation of school district under full State intervention. 1. Whenever the Commissioner of Education shall determine after the issuance of an administrative order that a local school district has failed to assure a thorough and efficient system of education, the State Board of Education may issue an administrative order as set forth in section 15 of P.L.1975, c.212 (C.18A:7A-15) which shall create a school district under full State intervention. The school district under full State intervention shall become effective immediately upon issuance of the administrative order by the State board.

 

NJ Spotlight -  IN NEWARK, NEW YORKER MAGAZINE GRABS ATTENTION OF EDUCATORS, POLITICOS

JOHN MOONEY | MAY 13, 2014

Magazine publishes tale of unlikely partnership between Cory Booker, Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Christie

The day before a pivotal mayoral election, and with Newark's public schools the target of reorganization plan that could eliminate hundreds of teachers, the buzz among the city's educators and pols yesterday was all about . . .

. . . an 11,000-word story in the venerable New Yorker magazine.

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Schooled: Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg Had a Plan to Reform Newark’s Schools. They Got an Education”

It was probably the fact-checkers who got things going, calling to check quotes from a host of sources, sources who had something to say in author-journalist Dale Russakoff's chronicle of the unlikely friendship between then-mayor Cory Booker, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Governor-elect Chris Christie.

It was the friendship that set in motion Zuckerberg's $100 million gift to the Newark school district, a generous gift that Russakoff maintains is either spent or committed -- an assertion that would certainly get some buzz going.

Russakoff, a former Washington Post reporter, is currently completing a book on the Newark saga, but the first look was published yesterday in the New Yorker's lead article “Schooled: Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg Had a Plan to Reform Newark’s Schools. They Got an Education.”

The following excerpts are from rare interviews with Zuckerberg and Booker on the state of the schools since the 2011 gift, and of a friendship that started at a retreat in Sun Valley, ID.

A month after their walk in Sun Valley, Booker gave Zuckerberg a six-point reform agenda. Its top priority was a new labor contract that would significantly reward Newark teachers who improved student performance. “Over the long term, that’s the only way they’re going to get the very best people, a lot of the very best people,” Zuckerberg told me. He proposed that the best teachers receive bonuses of up to fifty percent of their salary, a common incentive in Silicon Valley but impossible in Newark. The district couldn’t have sustained it once Zuckerberg's largesse ran out.

The district and the Newark Teachers Union did eventually settle a momentous contract, with the Zuckerberg money helping pay for bonuses of up to $12,500 for high-performing teachers.

The Zuckerberg money went elsewhere, too, according to Russakoff, much of it to consultants in the district.

During the next two years, more than $20 million of Zuckerberg’s gift and matching donations went to consulting firms with various specialties: public relations, human resources, communications, data analysis, teacher evaluation.

Many of the consultants had worked for [former New York City schools chancellor] Joel Klein, Teach for America, and other programs in the tight-knit reform movement, and a number of them had contracts with several school systems financed by Race to the Top grants and venture philanthropy. The going rate for individual consultants in Newark was a thousand dollars a day. Vivian Cox Fraser, the president of the Urban League of Essex County, observed, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can't read.

The article takes the story all the way to today’s election for Booker’s successor, in the race between Councilman Ras Baraka and Seton Hall Law professor Shavar Jeffries. At the center of the contentious campaign has been Newark’s reorganization -- “One Newark” -- under state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson, including a controversial universal enrollment system for both district and charter schools.

In some of his few public comments on the plan since he left Newark, Booker sums up the local outcry and his own belief that it will be worth the fight.

Booker, now a U.S. senator, said in a recent interview that he understood families’ fear and anger: “My mom -- she would’ve been fit to be tied with some of what happened.” But he characterized the rancor as “a sort of nadir,” and predicted that in two or three years Newark could be a national model of urban education. “That’s pretty monumental in terms of the accomplishment that will be.”

The full article is available online.


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