School advisory board prevents charter school lease deal

NJ Spotlight: Charter School Leases Struck Down in Newark, For Now

“We know who the enemy is, and we must fight to our last breath to save our children and to save Newark public schools,” said Mildred Crump, a city councilwoman who was the first in the audience to speak at the meeting.

“For those of you willing to sell our children for profit, shame on you,” she said.

Despite the councilwoman’s breathless rhetoric, the district advisory board has effectively voted to prevent consolidating absurdly empty schools and to foot the bill to restore dilapidated buildings—an expense that will run into the millions.

I’m for improving Newark’s schools for our children, but this is wrongheaded. Crump is stoking Newarkers’ suspicion of outsiders into paranoia to score political points and maintain her Teacher’s Union support.

Zuckerberg $100M School Donation in Holding Pattern

Newark School Reform: About That $100 Million…
Wonderfully detailed long-form piece on the present state of the Newark school system—it’s challenges and opportunities—and the elephant in the room.

When Anderson unveiled the plan last February, however, she was heckled at public meetings by residents who accused her of trying to rob them of their neighborhood schools. “Cami Anderson, I have not seen such trickery since the devil took over the Garden of Eden,” one of her detractors told her at a budget hearing. Naturally, the teachers’ union has happily stoked the outrage. “I’m all for school reform,” Del Grosso chuckles. “But this is the Dr. Kevorkian approach.”

The budget crunch has also forced Anderson to cut arts and music programs at some schools. Residents find this bizarre at a time when so many philanthropic dollars are flowing into Newark. “I don’t understand why you are doing this,” a frustrated Newarker asked at the budget meeting. “Where’s the Facebook money?” Good question.

The answer: matching funds are still being raised. The mayor has raised $54 million so far, just over half the needed funds to unfreeze Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s donation. Mayor Booker claims a big fundraising announcement will be coming in the next few months and I think he will succeed at closing the gap.

I am curious about the governance of the money. The total combined donation of $200 million is about a fifth of the nearly $1 billion Newark schools budget. How will residents get a say in where that money is directed?

Some read questions like this and the significant contributions from hedge fund managers as an effort to buy out the education system and run it at a profit (or some other nefarious scheme). I’m going to go on record and suggest that’s a load of crap.

BusinessWeek interviewed two main opponents of the mayor for the counterpoint perspective. One, State Senator Clifford Minor, ran a failed campaign for the mayor’s office against Booker.

The other was Joseph Del Grasso, president of the Newark Teacher’s Union. The union, whose membership enjoys a median salary 30% more than the rest of the state, has had an almost militant opposition to the mayor since his his swearing in. In 2007, they paid for a charming campaign to cover the city in billboards decrying the prevalence of violent crime, but offering no solutions.

When it comes to opposition to reforming the education system in Newark, I can’t help but think of that Upton Sinclair quote:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

Or maybe another more common quote: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

At Struggling School, Pride Displaces Failure

At Struggling School, Pride Displaces Failure
The Newton School celebrates a jump in standardized test scores that may have saved it from complete shutdown.

Just last summer, the Newark Teachers Union invested $100,000 into an improvement program at Newton, though they had poured more than half of that into political attack billboard ads around the city.

The so-called new Newton, which has been touted as a model for education reform, not only raised the school’s profile within the district but also freed it from the usual bureaucracy and paperwork that dictate school life, Newton teachers and administrators said. With the support of the union, Newton was able to replace 6 of its 44 teachers, a turnaround for a place that had once been known as a “training ground,” of sorts, for teachers who failed in other schools. It also extended the school day by an hour for the middle grades.

Seton Hall’s education professors took over much of the staff development, scheduling workshops on data analysis and coaching newer teachers in their classrooms. They equipped every Newton faculty member with a free I.B.M. laptop, and handed out basketballs and tickets to Seton Hall’s home games as an incentive for students and their parents. About 50 Seton Hall undergraduates came to Newton last fall to tutor students.

“I didn’t feel alone,” said Kevin Kilgore, 23, a third-grade math teacher who just finished his first year at Newton. “Teaching can be a very lonely profession. When you’re in a classroom, you’re the only adult. Because of this alliance, I knew there were many people, many adults involved.”

Hatchet Job

Joseph Del Grasso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, June 15, 2008.

There is not supposed to be politics involved in public schools.

Maybe a Teachers’ Union staffer wasn’t reading the paper on Sunday before this hatchet job was mailed out to Newark residents on Monday:

The attack by Newark’s political bosses and Booker on Congressman Donald Payne, State Senator Ronald Rice and Assemblyman Wilfredo Carabello are unconscionable…Carabello, Payne and Rice have been working for Newarkers all their lives.

Where was Booker during the Civil Rights struggle? Congressman Payne has supported womens’ and minority rights in congress.

Carabello, Payne and Rice have fought for injured health benefits and the raising of the minimum wage plus safety concerns and the improvement of Workers Compensation for working men and women and labor unions. Newarkers have benefited from their representation.

Who is the mayor to kick them out of office? Where does he have the right? Newarkers have to stand up. Newark should not be for sale.

The True Character of Newark’s Mayor was made known when he claimed that Judy Digg’s took a bribe. [sic] She couldn’t defend herself because she had passed away. So much for a Rhodes Scholar.

Click here to check out the full NTU flier (PDF).

The Newark Teachers’ Union Infuriating Ad Campaign

So, a few months ago, when the Newark Teachers Union took out billboard ads across the city condemning the spike in gun-related violence, I understood that it was a response (however misguided) to the pain the community was feeling at the time.
But this is getting ridiculous.

Since then, the campaign has only grown bigger. Almost anywhere you go throughout the city, billboards and public transit bus banners plead, “HELP WANTED: Stop the killings in Newark now!” Here’s a glimpse of the ad from one of the highways past the city:

Katie Wang at the Star Ledger recently covered Newark business owners’ reaction to the campaign: Merchants and mayor say billboards are hurting business.

Arthur Stern, chief executive of Cogswell Realty, the developers of the luxury high-rise apartment complex at 1180 Raymond Blvd., was so frustrated by the billboard that he decided to rent the space out with his own advertisement.

One of the six billboards is located in Military Park on Broad Street, facing the apartment complex.

“We felt it wasn’t very helpful with regard to our marketing efforts for 1180 and the general image of the city,” said Stern.

Wang notes that the Teachers Union backed a political rival to Mayor Booker during last April’s election, suggesting the ad campaign is a political tactic. The massive Associated Press coverage: of the union’s adamant unwillingness to take the ads down would seem to be politically driven, because there’s just no other way to interpret the signs. Let’s take a look:

  • Help Wanted: Okay, fine, Newark is looking for help. To do what? And from whom?
  • Stop the killings in Newark now!: Got it. Help Newark stop the killings. Sounds good. Where do I sign up?
  • Paid for by the Newark Teachers Union, Joseph Del Grasso, President: Huh? But how do I help stop the killings?

Every sign throughout the city says the same exact thing, with no actionable steps to take to help reduce Newark’s crime problem. This leaves one to wonder: who is the intended audience for these signs? Is it suburbanites? Doubtful, we’re not telling them how to help, so they keep driving. City residents? Maybe, but there isn’t a phone number or website to get more information, so we’re left being confused. Oh, well, maybe it’s the thugs doing the killing. They’re the ones who have direct control over the situation to stop the crime, right? But it’s just not likely that a billboard telling them to stop is going to change anybody’s mind who’s tangled up in a turf war or drug deal.

Or maybe it’s the city government — and I think this is the right answer. The NTU is publicly ridiculing the city administration’s apparent inability to contain crime. But, rather than work with City Hall to try to turn their neighborhoods around, they’ve wasted tens of thousands of dollars airing their dirty laundry in a massive FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) campaign. The question behind the question is, what do they hope to get out of it?