Newark Advisory Board Votes for Adults, Not Children

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson has overruled the district Advisory Board and now some of the city’s most successful charter schools will be able to lease five district-owned buildings that are currently empty or underused. See NJ Spotlight and the Star-Ledger for background.

Kind of a no-brainer, right? The lease payments will provide somewhere between $500,000 and $700,000 every year, the charter schools will pay for renovations, and the five charters include some gems like North Star ( 2,473 kids on the waiting list) and Team Academy (4,800 kids on the waiting list). 

Not so much. From the Star-Ledger:
Dozens of angry, frustrated parents and community leaders, however, spoke against the leases at Monday’s advisory school board meeting, making a final plea that the arrangements are unfair to students in regular district schools. Three facilities being leased housed schools that Anderson closed last month because of low test scores and enrollment.
From NJ Spotlight:
The chairman of the local board last night was very critical of the decision.
“The board members took this issue of leasing very, very seriously,” said Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, recently elected as the board’s chairman. “At this point, what has happened is that the democratic rights of the voters we represent have been totally disrespected.”
Interestingly, those totally-disrespected democratic rights only apply to charter organizations. The board did unanimously approve one of the leases:  a new charter to be run by a former traditional public school teacher from Science Park High School.

This isn’t about the thousands of kids on waiting lists, put there by their parents. This isn’t about the fact that some of the leased buildings are unoccupied and that the district currently has 8,000 empty seats. It’s not about the money, which within two years will surpass the grant from FaceBook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Instead, it’s that anti-charter school fervor which privileges adults over children.

One of the arguments made by charter school detractors is that schools like North Star and Team Academy “cream off” students with strong parental support or greater academic aptitude or fewer special needs. (See, by the way, Mike Petrelli’s reading of the recent Government Accountability Office study, which analyzed whether charter schools enroll fewer students with disabilities.)  In many ways, it’s a question of scale: if there’s few charter school seats, there’s fewer kids who have the opportunity to escape from chronically failing traditional public schools.

So in Newark, there’s an opportunity to push the envelope on that scaling problem. More families will have a choice between, say, attending North Star, which has a 95% graduation rate, or West Side High, with a 54% graduation rate. That’s good for kids.

But it’s bad for the adults who sit on the Newark Advisory Board (Shavar Jeffries gets a bye on this) who will see their oversight depleted. And it’s bad for the leadership of the Newark Teachers Union, which will see  its annual dues revenue decrease and its power diminished.

Mayor Cory Booker nails it: "We have an opportunity to expand high-quality school options for children and create revenue for the district, yet we continue to let the interest of adults get in the way of the interest of our kids.”

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