N.J. Sen. Rice calls for feds to look into state control of Newark, Jersey City and Paterson schools
Published: Thursday, September 06, 2012, 8:02 PM Updated: Thursday, September 06, 2012, 8:02 PM
By Richard Khavkine/The Star-Ledger
As Newark students returned to school Thursday morning, state Sen. Ronald Rice said state officials are playing loose with performance assessments, denying the city its right to run its school district.
Rice also fervently argued for the state to return local control to the Jersey City and Paterson school districts. The state took over Jersey City’s schools in 1989, Paterson’s in 1991 and Newark’s in 1995.
Speaking at Newark City Hall, Rice said he and a coalition of elected officials, school board members and clergy would enlist New Jersey’s congressional delegation, particularly its two U.S. senators, to call for a federal inquiry into the state Department of Education. He was joined by school board members and officials from the state NAACP.
“There’s something wrong with the process and there’s something inherently wrong with the representation that we can’t get an objective review of what is taking place at the local level as well as the state level,” Rice said.
Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, chairwoman of the Newark School Advisory Board, and James Harris, president of the New Jersey State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the state’s continued oversight of the districts a civil rights issue.
“This is a racist policy imposed on cities” with predominantly black and Latino populations, he said.
Baskerville-Richardson said a united front of all three cities’ school board members would give each a better opportunity to win back control.
“We should have been together long ago,” she said.
Rice said the state’s criteria for returning schools to local control is inconsistently and unjustly applied. Loopholes, he said, allow the state to retain control, despite what he called documented and significant progress in five key performance areas — instruction, finances, governance, personnel and operations.
The state senator, who helped sponsor and pass the law that set the benchmarks, said that although Newark’s schools had surpassed those targets in four of five categories by June 2001, the state capriciously downgraded the city schools’ scores to well below failing to retain control.
In July, a letter to district Superintendent Cami Anderson concluded that although the district’s fiscal management score dipped just 5 percent, to 88 percent, it reflected serious shortcomings, such as improper implementation of purchase orders and failure to fully comply with public contracts law.
The letter otherwise referred to an electronic file that in cursory fashion documents shortcomings in the four other benchmark areas.
But the state Education Department said the district is moving in the right direction.
“Superintendent Anderson has laid out an ambitious agenda for ensuring all of Newark’s students have access to a high-quality education, and a number of those reforms are just beginning to take hold and thus might not be reflected in this review,” a department spokeswoman said in a statement.
Still, Newark’s Central Ward councilman, Darrin Sharif, said a locally elected and empowered board is better placed than the state to make the best decisions for schools and students.
“Give us the responsibility,” he said. “We will deliver the results.”
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