By David Cruz
State board of education meetings are usually sparsely-attended, but with resolutions concerning two of the state’s largest – and state-run – school districts on the agenda, there was a full house at today’s monthly meeting. The subject: return of some aspects of local control to the Newark and Paterson school districts.
“What I want to do is not only be able to establish a good foundation for moving forward with these responsibilities but also I want to set the stage for return of additional areas of the district over time,” Hespe said at today’s meeting.
One resolution calls for Paterson to regain control over operations, one of five key areas where the state has set benchmarks for districts to meet before they can self-govern. For Newark, which saw return of control over operations in 2007, today’s resolution called for the return of control over fiscal matters. But if the state board was expecting an unqualified thank you from Newark’s new board president Rashon Hasan, they got a little more than what they bargained for.
“Our school district has been under state intervention for 19 years. We’ve had five state-appointed superintendents but very little has changed,” said Hasan. “I disagree with the governor’s view that criticism from Newarkers doesn’t matter because the state runs the district. I believe that disregarding the views of the Newark community does not help drive collaboration.”
Hasan was referring to a statement by the governor last summer when he was asked about whether he would re-appoint superintendent Cami Anderson in light of community criticism of her proposed changes to the Newark schools.
“Yes, we do and we’re going to renew [Anderson’s contract] because she’s done a great job,” the governor said at the time, “and I don’t care about the community criticism; we run the school district in Newark, not them.”
The Anderson question is especially hot in Newark, where Mayor-Elect Ras Baraka has said the superintendent – whose tenure expires at the end of June – has to go. Today, Commissioner Hespe was non-committal on the question.
“It’s still under consideration,” was all he would say today.
Hasan seemed to be of the same mindset as Baraka on the Anderson question. “I think from the community’s standpoint there have been some mistakes that have been made early off and I think it’s very hard to come back from that,” he said. “I am an elected official and I’m elected by the people of Newark and the people of Newark have spoken and they believe at this point in time we do need to have a new superintendent.”
The situation in Paterson is a bit different. Board President Christopher Irving said he and superintendent Donnie Evans have worked well together and the district has shown steady improvement in test scores and graduation rates.
“We have a very good working relationship with Dr. Evans,” said Irving. “We don’t always agree, but we respectfully disagree when necessary for the purposes of our kids and trying to move our district forward.”
State officials say the return of some control is better than no control but the resolutions passed at today’s meeting make it clear that so long as the state appoints the superintendent, that superintendent will have veto power – that is to say – ultimate control.