By Briana Vannozzi
Newark Schools Superintendent Chris Cerf spent the first several minutes extending the olive branch, ultimately offering the words they wanted to hear.
“I am unalterably, authentically and completely committed to returning the district to local control,” said Cerf.
In a roughly five hour long board meeting, the superintendent outlined a five part proposal to do that.
“That we together create a transparency committee to review enrollment data and generate recommendations for change,” said Cerf.
He acknowledged problems with the universal enrollment system, known as One Newark, including the trouble placing siblings in the same school. But said, the district will stick with it.
“There are lots and lots of schools in this district where there are more people who want the seats than are seats its no more complicated than that,” said Cerf.
Enrollment data — put together by his office — showed the majority of parents didn’t prioritize neighborhood schools or proximity in their choices. Cerf offered an example using 2,500 kindergarten applicants.
“Only 25 percent of the kindergarten applicants chose their closest school as their first choice. What the data shows, excuse me,” Cerf said.
“I saw those kids have to do their application process and I didn’t see any of them get their first, second choices, third, fourth, etc,” said Nenseh Koneh of the Newark Student Union.
Koneh’s younger sister will start her freshman year at a charter school, 30 minutes from their home in the North Ward — one she’d never heard of and didn’t select.
“She had to go through the One Newark program and they didn’t respond to her for about three to four months,” he said.
“I think we need a serious explanation as to why all those reforms are being carried out in the midst of all this chaos,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka
Baraka made a brief but impassioned speech to end One Newark and focus on student success.
“I do agree that there needs to be transparency around budget, around enrollment, around a merit of issues that were just secretive and in a cloud in the previous administration,” Baraka said.
Cerf offered the first details on the deficit in the nearly $1 billion school budget.
“We are still facing a $15-20 million gap,” Cerf said.
But pledged to cut costs from the central office, not schools. He said there are no present plans for closures or layoffs.
The board passed a resolution to end One Newark, not before putting Cerf under fired for former ties with an education company.
“Are you being paid or do you have any agreement with the other charter schools?” asked Newark Schools Advisory Board member Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson.
“No,” said Cerf.
So the superintendent sought to strike a conciliatory tone with the audience, but it looks as though he’ll have an uphill battle in winning their favor. As one parent said before she left, until they see results, all the talk is cheap.