EDUCATION

Newark Plan to Lease Buildings to Charter Schools Postponed

The Newark School Advisory Board has postponed a vote on a plan that would lease six city-owned properties to charter schools to allow more time for public input. Opponents of the plan have questioned if students will benefit from the leases, or just the city which will gain revenue. Newark Trust for Education President and CEO Ross Danis told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desiree Taylor that a generation of Newark children are facing a crisis and he believes the leasing plan would be beneficial.

Danis said the Newark public school system has lost 10,000 students so there is space available in buildings that would have to be maintained. “So there’s an opportunity to essentially gain about $2 million in revenue and there are schools that are looking forward to expanding their programs,” he said. “Five of them are charters, three of them are new and two of them are returning.”

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Some community members oppose the idea, but Danis said if the trust level was higher, people would be more comfortable with the plan. “Change is hard,” he said. “People are used to their schools and they have a lot of emotion attached to them, as they should. And of course there are some that are closing, yes, but more than that when so much is happening, there’s a level of trust that seems to be missing in the city and frankly when trust is as low as it is, there isn’t enough process, enough time that would make people comfortable with any plan.”

The lack of trust has existed in the city for many years, according to Danis. He said for generations people have had to fight for what they have and then been misled. “When an outside entity comes in, even if what they’re doing is fabulous — it might be the greatest thing you’ve ever heard of — you still look at it skeptically,” he said. “That’s understandable.”

Danis explained that the idea of leasing out buildings for charter schools isn’t new and some of the most highly regarded schools — like American History High School — have been in the same space as another school before becoming a standalone entity.

The amount of funding to the public school system has decreased and “other factors involved have actually left the district with a substantial revenue gap,” Danis explained. He said the leasing plan would help close that gap.

Danis said the idea has been upsetting to some in the community, but it’s one of the options that could provide a benefit. “You know what’s even more upsetting? Fifty percent of your students not graduating,” he said. “So essentially the tension here is in a community that’s faced with what’s the best thing that we can do for our children? And some of those decisions are going to be very hard. These are tough conversations that have to be had.”

According to Danis, it’s critical for Newark to take action on the education front. “This is a crisis for a generation of children and it requires a more aggressive approach,” he said. “I’m not saying fast or sloppy, but thoughtful, prudent but urgent.”

The lease proposal will likely be modified, Danis said. “This is not an administration that is tone deaf,” he said. “In fact, we’ve seen evidence that it will respond to the community’s interest and those voices that are raised.”