Baraka and Pro-Charter Slate Sweeps Newark School Board Elections Again

From left: Johnson, Bledsoe and Garcia. Newark Unity

The Newark Unity Slate—a compromise ticket designed by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, the city’s influential North Ward, and charter-school advocates—swept the city’s school board elections Tuesday night.

Of the 15 candidates on the ballot, the top vote-getter was Josephine Garcia. She brought in 3,566 votes, according to preliminary results by the Essex County Clerk’s Office.

Garcia was the North Ward candidate, aligned with Councilman Anibal Ramos. Reginald Bledsoe—Baraka’s pick— won 3,382 votes. The candidate backed by pro-charter advocates, Floshina Johnson, won 2,717 votes.

The 2017 school board election marks the second year that Baraka, a former public school administrator, teamed up with charter-school advocates in a bid to avoid what could have been a heated and expensive fight for school board seats.

Last year’s iteration of the Unity Slate—Leah Owens, Octavio “Tave” Padilla and Kim Gaddy— also swept their elections. But this year, the script was flipped.

In the 2016 race, Gaddy was the pro-charter candidate and the top vote-getter (5,804 votes) while the Baraka-backed Owens won with the lowest number of votes (4,945).

Although he has backed the Unity Slate for two years in a concession to the pro-charter movement in Newark, Baraka, a Democrat, remains a strong advocate of traditional public schools, and the 2017 results could rearrange the political dynamics in future school board races.

School board elections in Newark have long been jumbled with the city’s political interests. In 2015, former Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, an appointee of Gov. Chris Christie, was ousted from her position amid widespread criticism.

The city will soon regain local control of Newark schools from the state, something that will grant the municipality full governance of public schools for the first time in 21 years.

Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon said that, while the NTU respects Baraka’s decision to support a compromise slate, they do not agree that working with charter school advocates is in the best interest of Newark students. Abeigon said that he hopes the newly elected members of the school board move toward a moratorium on charter schools.

“We are hopeful that the winners are ready to get to work to put Newark back in local control,” Abeigon said. “We also want to make sure that resources come back to traditional schools. Corporate charter schools, we view them as parasitic. I don’t see any compromise coming from their sector at all so I don’t see why the city feels that they can compromise with these people.”

Pro-charter group Better Education for Kids supported Johnson in the 2017 election.

“We are thrilled with last night’s election results,” said Shelley Skinner, executive director of Better Education for Kids. “The slate of candidates who won will be champions for all of Newark’s school children. With a tremendous board member like Flo Johnson, we are confident we can move beyond divisive rhetoric and work towards providing a high-quality education for every child.”

Baraka and Pro-Charter Slate Sweeps Newark School Board Elections Again