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Paterson Assemblyman Wants to End State Control of Schools

3-18-13

In some communities, calls for the state to give up control of their local school districts are getting louder. Last week, the Paterson and Newark advisory school boards held a public session to update the two communities on the status of state control. The meeting also served to rally support to kick the state out. One lawmaker who would like to see the state relinquish control is Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35), who serves on the Legislative Joint Committee on the Public Schools.

Wimberly, who spent years teaching special education in the Paterson school district, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that it’s time for the state’s 21-year reign to come to an end.

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“Twenty-one years later, there’s no change in facilities and there hasn’t been any strong indication of changes in test scores, there has been cuts as far as staffing and programming,” said Wimberly. “So I think it’s time for local control to come back to the City of Paterson.”

Wimberly has been employed with the Paterson school district for 24 years. He said the biggest obstacle for both students and teachers is the physical environment where instruction and learning take place, citing 19 buildings that are at least 100 years old and eight buildings that were deemed unfit 40 years ago but are still being used.

“If you’re in a building and in the summertime it’s 99-100 degrees, how do you learn? In the winter time, if the ceilings are leaking and the building is freezing, how do you learn?” posed Wimberly. “So I mean that’s one thing our children face and our instructors face every day.”

According to Wimberly, if the state returned control of the schools to the local government, school administrators could begin putting in place “the right people” to lead the school system. He also said that there are funds to set that in motion.

“The budget’s, I think, well over $500 million. I think that with $500 million, you hire the right people, they need to figure out how to get it done in the best interests of the kids … as far as staffing and curriculum, getting our kids up to speed with technology.”

Wimberly acknowledged that getting parent involvement is a challenge when it comes to families that are working poor and for whom English is a second language. According to Wimberly, the success or failure of dealing with that challenge will have to come from the top, saying “it’s gonna all rise and fall on leadership.”