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4-15-15 Newark Schools - Twenty Years in Perspective

NJ SPOTLIGHT – ‘ONE NEWARK’ REORGANIZATION KICKS OFF SECOND YEAR, LEARNING FROM THE FIRST…Three-quarters of families selecting schools for their kids won placement at one of three top choices


Year two of the “One Newark” school reorganization plan for the state-run district may prove even more crucial to its success or failure than its controversial debut year.

And, from the district’s perspective, at least, it’s been so far, so good.


Newark Public School District Touts First-Round Enrollment Results

'One Newark, Second Year' Presentation

Superintendent Cami Anderson yesterday released the results of the first stage of the universal enrollment system for 2015-16, reporting that three-quarters of the families choosing schools had their children approved for one of their top three choices for the next school year.

As they were last year, charter schools were the top picks in the universal enrollment system, especially in the elementary and middle schools.

The most popular schools for K-8 were North Star Academy, TEAM Academy and Peter’s Academy topping the list. The most popular district schools were the Ann Street and First Avenue schools.

The 9,899 students participating in the new enrollment system was down from last year at this point, as it now focused on those entering transition years like kindergarten and freshman year of high school. Last year, the new enrollment system was open to all families, and 12,000 students were included in the first round.

A second round of registration starts in May.

Still, the relatively successful first round this year was in sharp contrast to the rancor and criticism of last year, when even Anderson acknowledged that there were significant problems at the onset of the “One Newark” initiative.

Anderson said she made improvement in staff and training related to the registration procedures, and took extra measures to accommodate siblings in making the matches.

In the end, 76 percent of applicants saw matches with their first three choices of schools, she said, and 95 percent of incoming kindergartners had a top-three match.

Anderson yesterday celebrated the success of the school-choice initiative so far, holding a press event at Quitman Street Community School and inviting 75 families who got their first-choice school under the new process.

“We have worked hard over the past year to implement the changes needed to ensure equity throughout the district, and this is an exciting step for all schools in Newark and for Newark families,” Anderson said in announcing the second-year numbers.

Board President Rashon Hasan, attending the event, said afterward that it was clear that progress has been made.

“When you look at where we were last year, where there were a lot of rumblings,” he said, “it seems the district has really taken ownership this year. It seems this year that folks really get it.”

Many logistical issues still need to be addressed, he said, starting with the school district’s student-transportation system.

And he said that he doubts critics will stop expressing their concerns about the equity of the process and whether all neighborhoods are best served.

“But it was important that they put in a process for this year to hear from the community, and to show that they listened,” he said.


Star Ledger - 20 years of debate: State control of Newark schools entering third decade


Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.comBy Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on April 13, 2015 at 7:31 AM, updated April 13, 2015 at 6:05 PM

NEWARK -- By early 1995, the competition for control over Newark Public Schools was in its final inning and the winner was a clear.

Eugene Campbell walked out of Newark Public Schools' headquarters carrying a handful of his personal belongings and the memories of more than decade spent as the superintendent of the state's largest school district.

Campbell would go onto to tell reporters that his administration ceded control of the district without incident.

But Charles Bell, a feisty school board member, would be stripped of his power less quietly, still talking about an overly aggressive state government.

Then Newark Mayor Sharpe James would plead for community involvement in the district even after the state took control.

What none of them expected that year was that that state takeover would continue for two decades.

After a bitter and protracted fight between district officials and the administrations of two governors, state authorities took control of Newark Public Schools in July of 1995, aiming to turn around a district it said was mired by corruption, crumbling facilities and low-performing students.

Today, the debate over who should control Newark Public Schools is no less fervent -- but it has taken on a new shape with different actors and political realities.

"I remember they came in like gang busters and made all kinds of commitments," Bell said in a recent interview.

"I don't care how you cut it. They came in heavy handed and it's been nothing but a patronage mill for the governors."


On April 13, 1995 administrative law judge Stephen Weiss ruled that that the Newark school district was so mired by failure that the state could bypass the normal hearing process and assume state control -- paving the way for the takeover to begin quickly.

SEE MORE: Timeline: 20th anniversary of the state takeover of Newark schools

But the story of the Newark Public Schools' takeover can be traced back to 1987, when New Jersey passed a law giving the state the ability to take control of a school district that is facing serious problems, but deemed unable or unwilling to correct them.

In 1989, New Jersey took control over the Jersey City school district, becoming the first state in the country to take over a local school system. The Jersey City takeover was followed by a Paterson school district takeover in 1991 and Newark's in 1995.

"I think a lot of people were thinking about it. New Jersey was the first one to pull the trigger and adopt it," said Rutgers law professor Paul Tractenberg. "It was the first one to actually use the takeover law."

But just as state and local politicians were debating who should control New Jersey's failing urban school districts, another fight was brewing in state's court system over who should be paying for them.

In 1981, the Newark-based Education Law Center filed a complaint on behalf of 20 students from Camden, Irvington, East Orange and Jersey City alleging the state's current public education financing formula hurt poor students.

After years of multiple rulings and legal wrangling, New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the school funding legislation was unconstitutional and ordered the state to immediately increase funding to poor districts. A central legal argument of the state was that urban students were not suffering because of lack funding but because of local school boards' mismanagement, said Tractenberg.

"The reason why there was a political push for state takeover (is) because it sort of went hand in hand with the legal argument the state was making," he said.

But Bob Curvin, author of "Inside Newark: Decline, Rebellion, and the Search for Transformation," said the state took over the district because authorities found too many problems to ignore.

"The state compliance investigation revealed horrors that in my mind were shameful and manifested a pitiful lack of concern on the part of leaders throughout the system for the children," Curvin said in a statement.

"Anyone who argues that the state takeover had nothing to do with the quality of education in Newark at the time is simply not telling the truth or is intentionally ignorant."


Newark came to be part of that push after the state started a comprehensive investigation into the school district. State officials produced a five-volume report spanning more than 1,700 pages alleging gross mismanagement and corruption.

"Children in Newark public schools are victimized by school and district leaders who force them to endure degrading school environments that virtually ensure academic failure," the 1994 report concluded.

The Comprehensive Compliance Investigation found a litany of problems including a quid pro quo expectations in the vendor selection process, crumbling facilities, conflicts of interests in the district and questionable expenditures of public funds.

Rebecca Doggett, a state-appointed auditor who was assigned to the district right before the takeover, said those who were politically connected often benefitted in the district.

"It was who do you know, and (how) do you take advantage of the resources in the school system," she said in a recent interview.

But former superintendent Campbell said recently while there may have been cases of impropriety, it was not reflective of the direction of the district over all.

"I think too often they thought the board was doing things that were not correct," he said.

"When I was aware of something I always brought it up. You can't take one person or one situation and say everyone is doing something. Don't use a broad brush (to) paint the district. And the broad brush has been here for 20 years. I'd like to know what they have done."

Bell, the former school board member, offered similar sentiments.

"They claim there was a lot corruption. What corruption? How many people went to jail?" he said.

One former principal and Essex County freeholder Joseph Parlavecchio and former principal Alphonse Rossi were tried in federal court on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering in connection with the lease of a building. They were acquitted of all charges, according to Curvin.

But the state's allegations extended beyond political corruption. State authorities found that Newark Public Schools was spending more money than other urban districts but with low-performing students and graduation rates.

"The children's performance was way down. There was very little parent involvement," Doggett said in an interview. "The school system was a huge monolith that could do what it wanted."


As state officials continued to take steps toward seizing the school district, Newark politicians pounced. Newark school district officials criticized the state's actions in the press and sought to challenge them in court.

But when administrative law judge Weiss ruled that that the state could bypass the normal hearing process, the state moved quickly.

A month later, a federal judge declined Newark school officials' petition to prevent the state takeover.

Campbell and other district officials were forced out of their jobs. And, the state announced plans to remake the board.

"It hurt. It really hurt because they came in on my clock," Bell said.


By the time the 2014 mayoral campaign arrived, a new cast of characters had emerged to take over the debate about control over Newark Public Schools.

NJ Working Families, a progressive advocacy group, ran television advertisements telling Newarkers that Mayor Ras Baraka would more likely stand up to Gov. Chris Christie and his control over the school district than his rival, Shavar Jeffries.

"We need a mayor who stands with Newark," a narrator says while a camera rolls on a neighborhood street. "But Shavar Jeffries won't stand up to...(Gov.) Christie's handpicked school superintendent who won't listen to us," referring to Superintendent Cami Anderson.

Soon after Baraka won, the governor reiterated to the press that it is the state that controls the school district.

"It is the state government that runs the school system in Newark," he said. "We are the deciders on what happens in the school system."

But Baraka has not backed down. The mayor has held multiple press conferences during which he has criticized Christie.

Last October he announced he sent a letter to President Barack Obama criticizing the state-appointed superintendent's controversial reforms. Soon after, he wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times in which he demanded the return of local control to the school district.

As he rode a city bus last week cruising through Newark's streets, Baraka said the fight for local control won't stop.

"This whole fight over Cami Anderson is really about the state. It's not really even about her," Baraka said. "It's time for the state to go."

COMING UP: Wednesday, NJ.com is hosting a video chat on the future of education in Newark. Submit your questions for the chat here.

Naomi Nix may be reached at nnix@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @nsnix87. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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