Newark Teachers, Parents Upset With Superintendent

By Desirée Taylor
Senior Correspondent

Newark Teachers Union President Joe Del Grosso echoed the sentiment of most of the Newark parents who attended the School Advisory Board meeting — emotions and frustrations ran high, especially after the audience heard Superintendent Cami Anderson would not be attending last night’s — or any other — meetings.

“In her statement that her and her staff won’t attend is not only a slap in the face to the board, it is a slap in the face to the community,” said School Advisory Board Chair Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson.

Anderson outlined her reasons in a letter from Newark Public Schools, which claims the meetings suffered from “dysfunction” and that Superintendent Anderson and the Newark Public Schools leadership team will no longer attend these meetings. The meetings do get heated. Union officials called her a “coward” last night. And in a previous meeting, she left after Natasha Allen asked her a question that referenced her bi-racial child.

“I asked her if our brown babies deserve the same as her brown baby. But it was more of an appeal to a mother from another mother,” Natasha Allen said.

Anderson declined to comment on camera but issued this statement: “No one wins when personal attacks are allowed to seep into discussion. There must be a way where we can have rigorous debates and disagreement — even vociferously — but remain respectful and focused on business.”

But it’s Anderson’s school overhaul plan that is causing the biggest uproar. It would close and consolidate schools and laying off hundreds of teachers. Anderson wants to waive seniority rules and instead base layoffs on teacher performance. The Newark Teachers Union represents Newark teachers and expressed outrage last night.

“The only waiver you’ll see is bye bye,” said Del Grasso.

Today, the NJEA questioned the legality of the waiver.

“She wants to fire basically 700 people and then hire in 300 brand new teachers at the lower end of the scale. That’s exactly against what the law says about have process rights,” said Wendell Steinhauer of the NJEA.

Anderson says declining enrollment has prompted the need for layoffs. The district plans to continue to communicate with the community about this plan via online postings and on Newark’s local Chanel 77.

It’s not clear yet when the state will make its decision about whether or not to approve the waiver. Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who many here consider Anderson’s ally, will be leaving office at the end of the week.