NEWARK – State Sen. Ron Rice (D-28) stood with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and an array of the city’s civic leaders at City Hall to announce a trip tomorrow to Washington, D.C., hoping to get federal assistance regarding a question that has roiled Newark: the direction of the city’s public school system under the leadership of Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson.
“Tomorrow is a very important day for those of us in leadership and who have come through the civil rights movement. We’re in a time here today that reflects 1967,” said Rice on Tuesday, referring to the civil disturbances of that year that tore Newark apart. “The government has a responsibility at all levels to make sure that people’s rights are protected.”
Rice’s comments came days after the most recent spike in controversy regarding Anderson’s guidance over the Newark school district, New Jersey’s largest.
Christie’s decision to appoint Anderson to head Newark’s public schools in 2011 has created what many see as an educational impasse, especially after Ms. Anderson launched her school reorganization scheme, known as the “One Newark” plan, in September. Meant to improve the city’s public education system by increasing student options, the plan has left many parents angry, confused and frustrated. A widespread community backlash included vociferous student, parental and teacher protests. Prominent local politicians have also spoken out, including state Senate education committee chair Teresa Ruiz (D-29), about Ms. Anderson’s leadership of the city’s schools. Yet Christie doubled down on his support for Ms. Anderson and her plan, extending her contract for three more years in June. The Christie administration renewed Anderson’s contract last week, including an additional 15 percent bonus on top of her $255,000-a-year base salary
“We have a superintendent that has [a school budgetary] deficit that has been growing every year since she’s been here, and in the middle of that, she gets a raise,” said Baraka, who will not travel to Washington on Wednesday because of other city business. “I’m starting to believe that she has a fairy godmother. I need to find out who this person is. At the end, this is not working for the city, and we have to do something about it.”
Rice will lead a group of about 25 people, comprised of state legislators, educators, students, activists, teachers’ union members and clergy to Washington, who will then present their concerns to U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10) before meeting with U.S. Dept. of Education officials to voice their concerns.
Other members of the traveling delegation expressed what they hoped to achieve in the nation’s capital.
“The state has not been responsive to our questions. We now appeal to a higher standard,” said Bishop Dr. Jethro James, Jr., chairman of the Newark North Jersey Committee of Black Churchmen. “We’re praying for our children. I’m asking our governor, our legislators and those that lead the educational system in Washington, D.C. please don’t forget about our children.”
“The U.S. Department of Education has a responsibility by virtue of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure that all children receive the best education possible,” added Mary Bennett, chair of the Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools. “As we look at the results of the One Newark plan, we cannot see how in good conscience she can say that this is good education. Enough is enough.”
“The federal government needs to understand that we are going to keep the pressure on. If Washington does not respond, then we’re going to have to find a way to get into federal court, even the U.S. Supreme Court if we have to,” Rice said when asked by PolitickerNJ if he expects any immediate results from Wednesday’s trip. “To be silent is suicide.”