New Jersey has been a national forerunner in state intervention in its most troubled public schools, starting with its takeover of Jersey City schools in 1989 and then with Paterson and Newark within a decade later.
Gov. Chris Christie has certainly not run from the strategy, as highlighted by the Camden takeover four years ago. But as seen in Newark and elsewhere, Christie has been part of a more complicated history over the past eight years that has revealed intervention’s limits and challenges.
This weekend, Phil Murphy took on the topic of state takeovers for the first time since Christie’s administration announced it would return local control to Newark after 21 years.
And the Democratic frontrunner for governor offered a very measured take on both the gains and challenges of interventions — maybe offering some insight into his own approach if elected.
At a Montclair forum broadcast by Sirius Radio and hosted by BlueWaveNJ, Murphy took an audience question specifically about the Newark developments and was unequivocal that he saw the takeovers as a troubling pattern that has clearly targeted minority communities.
“In every case, 100 percent of cases, state takeovers are of communities of color — that’s a fact, whether it is the school district or the entire community,” he answered. “And I find that to be particularly offensive.
“So I don’t like the notion of state takeovers," he continued. “Those closer to the ground should get the say-so. That’s where the governance ought to be.”
Murphy also brought up the state’s takeover in Paterson, which has garnered far less attention in Newark’s shadow but does not appear to be ending anytime soon.
“There is an anger and bitterness, and a feeling they are being left behind and the state hasn’t gotten their back,” Murphy said.
Still, with the Newark transition now in place and likely to be a slow and methodical one that will run into the next administration, Murphy said he was also not writing a blank check back to the city.
“It has to happen carefully,” he said. “This transfer in Newark, like it would be anywhere else, there is a lot of money involved, there is a lot of responsibility involved.”
Murphy said he would work closely with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, if elected, “to make sure it gets done right. So I welcome the fact Newark is getting back what it deserves, but let’s make sure it gets done right.”