A significant departure following a turbulent four years as the state-imposed Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson is stepping down. State Education Commissioner David Hespe says he’ll nominate former State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who appointed Anderson, to replace her. In making the announcement, Hespe gave Anderson high praise for negotiating a landmark teachers’ contract, implementing the One Newark reform plan and increasing flexibility and support for virtually every school in Newark. NJ Spotlight‘s Founding Editor and Education Writer John Mooney discussed the change with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams and Correspondents David Cruz and Michael Hill.
Mooney said Anderson’s departure was long rumored. “I think there was a sense that she was not going to last out her full contract and it was a matter of some timing. I think the surprise to it was that it germinated very quickly over the last week or so and the fact that Chris Cerf is going to be coming in to replace her. I mean, he was very closely aligned to her,” Mooney said. “He appointed her to this job and had been one of her strongest cheerleaders and now is coming in and it’s an interesting choice. Her big issue had been her relationship with the community. Whether he can calm those concerns, we’ll see. That’s going to be the big question going forward.”
Cruz agreed, pointing out that Cerf hasn’t been particularly good at community relations.
Anderson was booked to appear on NJTV News tonight but declined late this afternoon.
Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka have said they plan a more detailed statement on the common vision and path for the future of Newark schools. Mooney said that he believes that indicates that there may be some kind of commitment being made for local control being returned to the district. “That was the main thing the mayor had been asking for. So he probably can put up with Chris Cerf if he’s going to be getting ultimately one of his main goals of the administration,” said Mooney.
With Anderson’s departure, some are wondering what will become of One Newark. Mooney said he believes it will continue. “It would be somewhat tough to dismantle it right now. Kids have been assigned. There’s not peace in the land per se, but it’s in place. To pull the plug on it with a new superintendent coming in, there may be some confusion. I’ve had no indication that it is not proceeding until next year,” he said.
Cruz agreed. “I think the sense is Chris Cerf is going to continue these so-called reforms. The question is where does local control begin and where does the state and how does the state begin to ease itself out of this really quagmire that they’ve been in for 20 years now?” he said.
Mooney said he believes local control could be returned to Newark. He said it benefits Christie as he enters the next stage of his political career “to have some kind of peace in the state’s largest city.”
Hill asked what Newark gained in the state takeover. Mooney said the outcome wasn’t all bad. “I think some improvements were made fairly immediately and then it settled back into some problems. And it’s hard to say. I certainly would make the argument that the schools are better off than they were 20 years ago,” he said “Certainly there’s been some progress.”
Mooney said the teachers’ contract is better than previous ones and graduation rates have improved. “But obviously there’s been a lot of community relations damage and I think that is something that will take a little while to heal,” he said.
Cruz said there is stress that permeates the entire system for supporters and non-supporters of Anderson. “I think that’s something that the new superintendent and the next superintendent is going to have to deal with. And also the fact is, and it’s not too small a point, this is an $800 million budget and there are contracts all over the place,” he said.
In addition to Anderson, others in the Christie administration are also abruptly departing. They are State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, who presided over six state budgets, that 2 percent cap on local property tax increases and the overhaul of public employee pensions and benefits. Also State Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd who saw the state through Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy and coordinated New Jersey’s response to the Ebola outbreak. And Banking and Insurance Commissioner Ken Kobylowski, who organized Sandy insurance mediation, strengthened fraud deterrents and reformed auto insurance. Christie called them all “talented and dedicated individuals.”
Replacements are already in the works. Christie has nominated Elizabeth Connolly to serve as the commissioner of the Department of Human Services and Richard J. Badolato to serve as Banking and Insurance commissioner. Robert A. Romano will become acting treasurer.