Who are the Candidates for Newark School Board?

Last night was the first Newark School Board candidate forum at St. James AME Church. I wasn’t able to make it there and haven’t seen any news reports. However, here’s what I’ve found on nine of the twelve candidates who are running for  three open seats.

First there’s the “Unity Slate,” which itself is a departure from the usual Newark electoral process. Typically the Mayor (currently Ras Baraka) backs a slate, and opposing slates are organized by other lobbyists. This time, however, reported the Star-Ledger back in January, “a surprising partnership between Mayor Ras Baraka, charter school advocates and other local political heavyweights has produced the 'Newark Unity' slate — a rainbow coalition aimed at diffusing the hostile rhetoric that often arrives part and parcel with campaigns for city office.”

The Unity Slate is comprised of Kim Gaddy, Tave Padilla, and Leah Owens. Gaddy, according to the Star-Ledger, represents “ an increasingly mobilized bloc of charter school supporters.” (Here’s a piece she wrote for Education Post.)

Tave Padilla represents a recurring slate called “For Our Kids.”He was chosen by Councilman Anibal Ramos and other North Ward officials. Councilman Ramos was recently in the news for his leadership on the City Council, which boldly opposed a bill that would place a moratorium on charter school expansion.  Padilla works in the recreation department at the city's North Ward Center and also served as chief of staff to former Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo.

Leah Owens  represents Mayor Baraka’s anti-reform slate called “Children First." Owens works for New Jersey Communities United, which opposes charter schools and school reform in general. NJCU issued this statement:
The “Unity Slate” does not represent the democratic interests of Newarkers and this approach raises serious concerns for the students, parents and teachers that make up our membership. We are troubled by the Mayor’s decision to support this slate, especially given the recent approval of the Uncommon Charter school and with the looming expansion of five more KIPP charter schools in Newark. 
NJ Communities United does fully endorse Leah Owens, a candidate represented on this slate. As a community organizer with NJ Communities United, and a dedicated teacher in the Newark Public School system, Leah understands the challenges facing students, teachers and parents, and the threats posed by the dramatic proliferation of charter schools in the City.
Owens is also a leader of a militant arm of the Newark Teachers Union called Newark Education Workers. In a NJ Spotlight piece she opined, “It’s largely about these corporate education reforms that are completely destroying public education. It’s about our working conditions that are deteriorating, and the profession that isn’t what it used to be.”

Here’s what I’ve found on other candidates.

Jody Pittman  is a parent advocate for school improvement. In a Star-Ledger editorial she wrote,
There are thousands of children in Newark Public Schools and these children have, without question, received a substandard education. The vast majority is failing and we have allowed it to happen for more than 20 years. Shame on us. The argument of charter vs. public is not the issue. The issue is clear: Should a parent have the right to choose how and who takes on the most important job in the lives of our children — their destiny? 
Certainly, it is time for parents to lead. Given the daunting task of choosing what’s right for our children, remember that, by the very nature of our precious position as parents, we must block out political banter. Parents must focus on facts.
Sheila Montague is on record as an anti-choice advocate: “To say that there has been even a modicum of success from the state’s decision to implement charter schools into our community is more than a falsehood."

Carole Graves is described on Wikipedia as “an American Democratic Party politician and labor leader who served three terms as the elected Essex County Register of Deeds and Mortgages and 27 years as the President of the Newark Teachers Union.”

George Tillman was in the news last year as a father of five children who were assigned to five different schools during the rocky first year of Newark’s universal enrollment plan. (The second year, under Chris Cerf, was far smoother.)

Juan Silva runs a group called Our Youth Now and also owns the Chocolatte Cafe and Restaurant.

Jimmie White was lauded by conspiracy-theorist Bob Braun for expressing "frustration over continued state control of the Newark schools and increasing encroachment by privately-operated charter schools" At a Newark School Board meeting, writes Braun, "a pro-public school activist, Jimmie White, charged the stage at University High School where board members were sitting, angrily denouncing Christopher Cerf, the state-appointed schools superintendent. Although White was ejected by security guards, students and others in the audience cheered him on and continued to disrupt the meeting after his eviction.

“You have to go,” shouted White as he strode toward the stage. He made his comments after Valerie Wilson, the business administrator had just completed a long presentation outlining just how difficult it would be for local control of schools to be returned to Newark after 20 years of state control. “You brought us these problems.”

Additional candidates are Jason Dotson, Thomas Ellis,  and Tamara Moore. I couldn’t find any information on them.

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