By Brenda Flanagan
While insisting it’s all about the kids, politicians took potshots over the gaping $72 million budget hole facing Newark’s school district. Mayor Ras Baraka fired first, frustrated over the state-run district’s plan to raise school taxes 10.3 percent.
“Why do we have to take responsibility for that, by getting our taxes raised, when the state created this problem?” Baraka asked in a YouTube video.
Baraka dumped the blame squarely on former Superintendent Cami Anderson, who was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie and pushed the deeply unpopular One Newark school reorganization plan on an unwilling district — one that’s now lobbying hard to regain local control.
“When Cami Anderson came into office as the superintendent, there was a $40 million surplus in Newark schools, $40 million. That money was wasted away. Wasted away,” Baraka said.
Under Anderson and Christie, Baraka also charged, a “wholesale expansion” of charter schools have siphoned off state aid that should be spent in public school classrooms. The mayor complained, he requested $36 million in extra funding from Trenton to offset that discrepancy, but got only $27 million.
An annoyed Christie shot back.
“Now, this of course, comes from a school district that gets hundreds of millions of dollars from New Jersey state taxpayers every year because of a failed, and I believe, unconstitutional court requirement that we put disproportionate funds into a small number of school districts,” he said.
Continuing the pointed point-counterpoint, Christie noted charter schools enrollment is up because families choose charters.
“So what the mayor wants to do is freeze any new expansion of charter schools, freeze any new development of charter schools so that those families are forced back into the failed schools that drove them to want to make the choice to begin with,” the governor said.
Christie claimed teacher unions prevented the district from implementing reforms that now benefit charter schools. But Newark’s union fired back, “…the state-operated district created this mathematically predicable mess and it alone should pay the cost…to pass the buck of their irresponsible leadership to the city’s taxpayers is an abomination.”
The district commented in a statement, “The proposed tax levy will increase the average annual cost to Newark homeowners by about $185…” on a home assessed at $175,000 and that, “NPS has raised taxes at far lower rates than the City of Newark in recent history.”
Baraka wasn’t mollified.
“We have to demand they find other ways to raise the dollars for Newark Public Schools this year and next year,” Baraka said.
Newark’s school board meets tonight and has Baraka called on its members to hold off on a final budget vote, hoping more state aid might be forthcoming. The board is advisory only.