Clergy warn Christie: Your Newark school reform is a mess


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie  (Eduardo Munoz/REUTERS)

Dozens of members of the clergy in Newark have warned Gov. Chris Christie (R) that school reform efforts by his appointed superintendent are causing so much controversy and “unnecessary instability”  in the city that they are “concerned about the level of public anger we see growing in the community” over the issue.

The state-operated Newark public school system is run by Superintendent Cami Anderson, who was appointed in 2011 by Christie and who has become the target of criticism from people who oppose her “One Newark” district reorganization plans, as well as by people who support reform but see her as ineffective and damaging to her own cause.

Many in the Newark community oppose Anderson’s plans to close some traditional schools; lay off more than 1,000 teachers and hire Teach For America recruits to fill some open spots; and create a single enrollment system for Newark’s 21 charters and 71 traditional public schools. There are others who are less opposed to her reform efforts than to her leadership style — or, more precisely, lack of it — as she fails to show up for budget meetings, refuses to provide a line-item budget, ignores checks and balances and gives bonuses to supporters while laying off teachers. Her decision to suspend four principals who spoke out against One Newark at a community meeting wasn’t a great PR move.

There have been repeated protests by parents, educators and other concerned citizens. In February, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten sent a letter to Christie telling him that the way to end the “crisis” was to return control of the Newark schools, which have been run by the state since 1994, to the Newark community.

And now 77 members of the Newark clergy just sent a letter (see below) to Christie and the acting state education superintendent, David Hespe, saying that Anderson had made nothing less than a mess of her reform efforts and asking that the governor step in. The statement says starkly that the level of anger over the plan has grown to levels that have left clergy members concerned about the community’s future.

How Christie will respond is anybody’s guess. Last year, he reacted to community protests over Anderson’s reform initiatives and leadership style by saying in part:

 ‘I don’t care about community criticism, I care about the job she’s doing.’

In his State of the State speech earlier this year, he praised Anderson’s efforts to reform Newark schools and hailed “a historic contract with the teachers union” — the very same contract that Weingarten says Anderson wants to change.
Now though, Christie wants to run for president in 2016 and is still dealing with the fallout from a scandal in which some of his top aides organized a traffic jam  as retaliation against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, whohad  declined to endorse Christie’s 2013 re-election campaign.

Here’s the clergy’s statement:






Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · April 19