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As School District Simmers Over ‘One Newark’ Reforms, Both Sides Sit Down at Table

Superintendent Anderson, local advisory board are talking, though no substantive progress has been made as of yet.

U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th)

As the public drama over Newark schools continues to swirl, a private meeting was held in the city’s Gateway Center this past Friday that at least by one account made some progress in the ongoing struggle over the state’s control of the district.

State Education Commissioner David Hespe met with leaders of the district’s local advisory board, as well as state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson, to discuss what has become a painstakingly slow process for returning local control.

And while there were no breakthroughs, according to board chairman Rashon Hasan, it was a step forward just to have the parties at the same table -- no small feat these days.

“Every meeting we have is worthwhile and providing us with good insight,” said Hasan this weekend.

Specifically, Hasan said he shared the board’s own report of its and the district’s progress in the past year, part of a self-assessment that is integral in the state monitoring system that determines the extent of control.

In that report, first sent to the state in March, the board gave itself strong marks on the progress of the district. Hasan said he was confident that Hespe would continue the transition after returning fiscal controls last year and moving next to personnel.

“I’m not sure it will be this year, but likely in 2016,” he said.

Still, whether that’s enough in a restive city is uncertain, as the protests continued last week and move into this week over Anderson’s ongoing plans for the district, including the expectations of widespread layoffs this spring.

Hasan, for one, confirmed that while the board supposedly holds fiscal control, Anderson and Hespe had overridden the board’s unanimous rejection of Anderson’s budget for next year.

He still hoped for further discussions on the budget before the new fiscal year begins, although he acknowledged his own days may be numbered as the board’s leader when it holds its officer elections on Tuesday.

The Newark Teachers Union announced that it would hold job actions starting Tuesday over Anderson’s leadership and specifically her plans for turnaround strategies in nine more schools, requiring teachers to work longer hours and days.

Staff on the new so-called renew schools would be paid an extra $3,000 in stipends, part of an agreement struck by the NTU, but the designations have been widely questioned as a move to potentially remove teachers.

NTU officials said its members would stop volunteering for extra duties beyond the formal school day, as well as other actions.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep Donald Payne (NJ-10) released a letter he sent to Anderson on Friday that protested the “One Newark” reorganization as it moves into its second year, saying the plan seems more intent on propping up charter schools than helping district ones.

“While we should not discount the work that high-performing charter schools in Newark do to educate select students, any effort to strengthen outcomes for all students must include bolstering traditional public schools, which a majority of students to attend,” Payne, a Democrate, wrote.

Among his complaints was that Anderson never even responded to a similar letter a year ago.

This time, however, Anderson came back with a letter the very same day, apologetic about the last one and saying she welcomed the dialogue. She did not specifically answer any of Payne’s questions, but said the district was continuing to make progress.

“My team and I have made some very difficult decisions over the last few years in the interest of creating a sustainable system that provides high-quality options for all students,” Anderson wrote. ”We are beginning to see real signs of improvement across all schools in the district, not just charters and magnets.”

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