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Newark Board Votes ‘No Confidence’ in Schools Chief

Action adds to strife in district already in turmoil over state control, sweeping layoffs and severe spending cuts.

As if Cami Anderson didn’t have enough of a challenge running the state-controlled Newark schools, the superintendent now has a new revolt on her hands.

The district’s advisory board last night took the unprecedented step of casting a “no-confidence” vote against the state-appointed superintendent.

With Anderson not attending the meeting due to what she called a prior commitment, the board left her empty seat on the stage of the George Washington Carver Elementary School -- and even used her absence as a point against her.

“Whereas the state superintendent has failed to meet the minimum standard of attendance,” read board President Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson from a prepared resolution, listing the public meetings Anderson had missed.

“Let it be it resolved, the Newark Board of Education has no confidence in the vision, leadership and direction of the state-appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson,” Baskerville-Richardson said, to loud applause.

What it all means when the board is already in court with the Christie administration over the state’s 18-year takeover is likely more symbolic than anything.

But the unexpected -- and unanimous -- vote fueled what was already expected to be a lively meeting for what is usually the routine act of reorganizing the board’s officers.

In the first meeting after the board’s election of three members last Tuesday, Baskerville-Richardson was reelected president and Marques-Aquil Lewis was named vice president.

But with the large auditorium about half full, the meeting quickly became more of a public protest against Anderson and the state’s control of the district, with plenty of points of contention.

Ever since her appointment by Gov. Chris Christie, Anderson has been unpopular with some segments of the community.

But she has faced especially big challenges in her second full year with plans for laying off nearly 200 administrators and other support staff and the need to find other reductions to fill a $56 million funding gap next year.

Anderson herself wouldn’t comment last night, but a spokeswoman said the superintendent would continue to try to work with the board – while taking some swipes at what she called “political grandstanding.”

“Under the leadership of Superintendent Anderson, Newark Public Schools will continue our attempts to engage with the (board),” said Renee Harper, the district’s communications director, in an email.

“We invite the (board) to make students their focus - as opposed to actively rebuffing repeated attempts at collaboration in favor of political grandstanding,” the email read. “Our focus remains firmly on doing right by kids and working with stakeholders who share that same commitment.’

The Newark Teachers Union, which stood with Anderson six months ago in sealing a new teacher contract, has joined the fight and has publicly protested the cuts. Its president, Joseph Del Grosso, said last night that his members may consider a “no confidence” vote as well, and he cheered the board’s action.

“Your vote of no confidence was magnificent,” Del Grosso said in brief comments at the meeting. “I’m glad for once that people listened to the oath they took, and that they serve by authority of the people.”

Students proved a focal point of the meeting, too, as a group organizing themselves as the Newark Student Union have become a force following a recent walkout staged by nearly 1,000 students to protest budget cuts.

Several of the students said they were disciplined and in some cases suspended for the walkouts, despite administration vows that would not happen.

With a scattering of “Student Protester Amnesty” signs among the crowd, speakers last night took up their cause and called for the district to expunge any disciplinary action on their school records.

“There is a saying that the children will lead the way,” said Deborah Smith-Gregory, president of the Newark NAACP. “The Newark NAACP stands in support of the students in our history of peaceful organized protests on behalf of our rights.”

Other speakers raised a host of other concerns, from the closing of two more schools and the reorganization of two high schools to one speaker who said too many schools have bedbugs in their classrooms.

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