TRENTON – Moments after appearing at a Monday meeting of the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) looked back toward her Newark power base at a situation that could be even more sticky than the state budget crisis: the future of Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson.
“I can’t answer for anybody else, but I don’t have the confidence in [Anderson] to move our public school agenda forward,” Ruiz told PolitickerNJ.com “”There are difficult changes that need to be made, but her common practice of disrespect and not including individuals on an informational basis, and not collaborating with stakeholders and partners to get to the finish line, I think is a huge detriment to creating change.”
Anderson has for months been at the center of a shifting and increasingly volatile situation centered around the future of Newark’s schools.
Anderson was appointed to head the state-run Newark school district, New Jersey’s largest, by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011. The governor publicly stated in September 2013 that he plans to reappoint her, and that he did not care about community criticism. Newark’s schools were placed under state control in 1995.
The One Newark school reorganization plan, announced by Anderson in December, includes the expansion of charter schools, which already serve approximately 20 percent of the city’s students, as well as the closure or consolidation of certain public schools.
Anderson has also proposed to lay off approximately 1,000 Newark public school teachers over the next few years, which she wants tied to teacher effectiveness as well as seniority.
The timing of the introduction of the One Newark plan, which came just at the start of the 2014 Newark mayoral campaign season, acted like dynamite for Newark’s already combustible politics and served as a rallying point for many supporters of Ras Baraka, a teacher and Newark public school principal, who won the Newark mayoral election earlier this month.
The Newark Promise plan, an alternative school reorganization initiative which is being promoted by the Newark Student Union and other activist groups, calls for the return of local control to the Newark school system, improvements for school district facilities and less focus on the results of standardized tests, among other things.
The goals of a student sit-in last month at Newark Board of Education headquarters called for the termination of both the One Newark plan and Anderson. One student goal was achieved: a meeting with acting New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner David Hespe who told students that he could be contacted for a follow-up meeting.
Anderson, who has recently expressed the willingness to meet with students, has yet to meet with any student group alone. Following the student meeting with Hespe last month, which was also attended by Anderson, student leaders told PolitickerNJ.com that they felt the same emotions that led them to an act of civil disobedience against Anderson’s leadership of Newark’s public schools: dissatisfaction, disrespect and disgust.
Some observers of the fight over the future of public schools have expressed hope that the recent decision by the state to restore partial fiscal control of the Newark public school system to the advisory school board is a step in the right direction.
But Ruiz made it clear to PolitickerNJ.com that in her opinion, the future direction of Newark’s schools should not be guided by Anderson.
“I think that when we’re talking about conversations of change, I think there has to be a trust factor there,” Ruiz said. “The trust is gone. With everyone.”