NEWARK – As the school year starts anew under a controversial reorganization plan that has had community members and lawmakers at odds, state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-28) is again calling on top state education and law enforcement officials to investigate administrative and fiscal mishandlings within Newark’s public school system.
In a letter today, Rice, co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, called on acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe, acting Attorney General John Hoffman, and acting state Comptroller Marc Larkins to look into a laundry list of issues that have plagued the district in recent months, from questions about how to deal with the district’s projected $53 million budget deficit to potential abuses of power at the hands of embattled schools superintendent Cami Anderson.
“Newark students are preparing to begin another school year and, unfortunately, the questionable handling of numerous matters concerning the district has yet to be addressed,” Rice said. “I am reissuing my request for an investigation into the administrative and financial decisions that have been made within the district. These are issues concerning conflicts of interest and potentially more serious matters that cannot be ignored. Since the state-appointed superintendent is not answerable to the school board or to the public, it is up to the state to examine the district’s affairs.”
Rice’s letter comes 18 days ahead of the reopening of district schools under the “One Newark” reorganization plan, which has been widely criticized by residents and community leaders since its introduction in December. Critics argue that that plan — which includes the expansion of charter schools, already serving approximately 20 percent of the city’s students, as well as the closure or consolidation of certain public schools — violates the law governing the transition of a district school into a charter school, among other things.
They also argue the legality of the plan’s enrollment system, which allows Anderson — a state-appointed official who has been at the heart of the ongoing controversy over Newark’s public schools — to assign students to different schools.
Rice, who originally asked Hespe for an investigation on May 20, said he wants the commissioner’s office to look into Anderson’s handling of affairs in the district, which include the auction of the 18th Avenue School, closed at the end of the 2011-2012 school year, at a price below its assessed value. He also noted that Anderson’s three-year state contract was renewed this year without a proper investigation into the matters.
“The lack of information, transparency and accountability by Superintendent Cami Anderson and her administrators has raised much concern by the public regarding the sale of the Avenue School building, the ‘One Newark Plan,’ the high salaries and raises provided to her staff, her relationship with consultants as well as the Superintendent’s continuous travel out of State conferences rather than being in the district to address the problems of the Newark Public Schools,” Rice wrote.
Rice is not the only one to call for investigations into the troubled school district in recent weeks. Both Assembly Minority Leaders Jon Bramnick (R-21) and Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26) have called on the Select Committee of Investigation (SCI) to look into a recent report that the Newark school district spent $22,000 per month for 15 months on catered meals and take-out food under Anderson.