In or Out? Newark School Superintendent Waits to Get the Word

Superintendent Clifford Janey's contract says he must be told by September 1 whether he'll be working in Newark come 2011

After just two years as superintendent of Newark schools, Clifford Janey will learn sooner rather than later whether he will get more time or should start looking for a new job.

Janey, hired in 2008 by then-Gov. Jon Corzine, has a clause in his three-year contract that requires the state’s education commissioner to inform him by September 1 if the state plans to renew that contract in 2011.

The district has been under state operation since 1995, giving the governor and education commissioner power to appoint the superintendent.

But so far, state Commissioner Bret Schundler has remained mum about his intentions for the state’s largest school district. His boss, Gov. Chris Christie, has openly admonished Newark schools as “absolutely disgraceful.”

“This has left us in the community crazy,” said Wilhemina Holder, president of the district-wide high schools’ parent association. “Everyone’s talking about it. All we’re hearing is rumors and innuendo.”

No Comment

The president of the Newark Teachers Union said it’s been a running concern for his membership as well, as the NTU negotiates with Janey for its next labor contract.

“Who do I negotiate with?” said Joseph DelGrosso, the NTU’s long-time president. “I’m hoping we at least get some word.”

Janey would not comment about his fate after the district’s advisory board meeting last night, and Schundler also would not say either way whether he will renew the contract or even what the process will be in the coming months.

Janey, previously the Washington D.C. superintendent, was hired in 2008 after a protracted search process that pitted city and state political leaders against one another.

A key player then and now has been Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has openly called for mayoral control of the schools once the state’s takeover is phased out. He did not support Janey’s appointment, but the two since then are said to have a cordial relationship.

Still, Janey’s contract renewal was one of several topics of discussion when Booker met with Schundler last week, according to the mayor’s spokesperson. Efforts to reach Booker yesterday were unsuccessful.

Strategic Plan for Newark

Janey this year unveiled a new strategic plan for Newark’s 70-plus schools, with a heavy emphasis on improving its high schools standards and expectations.

But at the same time he has been handed a dire financial picture for the district as it tries to absorb more than $40 million in state aid cuts.

At the state’s advisory board meeting last night, the board was presented the list of 400 teachers and staff being let go for next year, as well as the retirements of another 100 teachers and staff.

Janey himself makes $280,000 a salary, the highest for any school employee in the state, but this year passed up any raise or bonuses, state officials said.

Holder said that Janey so far has engendered support from much of the community, but added that he hasn’t had enough time as yet to be marked either a success or a failure.

Still, she said it would be a “travesty” to start anew after just two years. “He should get minimally three or four years—you can’t do anything in less than that,” she said.

Mounting Another Search

Others are even more circumspect about Janey’s tenure so far, but also worried about starting anew with a search for a new superintendent.

“I think the state should at least give him another year to get more information on his leadership,” said Steve Adubato, a powerful North Ward leader and founder of the Robert Treat Charter School.

“Any change will force us to start over again, and we have to be careful about that,” Adubato said.

But Christie has been openly critical of Newark schools, holding up both its high pricetag and low achievement levels in a recent high-profile speech.

“In the city of Newark, we are spending $24,000 per pupil in public money for an absolutely disgracefully public education system, one that should embarrass our entire state,” he told a group of school choice advocates in Washington D.C,. in May.

Yesterday, his spokesman also criticized a one-year teachers’ contract in the district that gave teachers a 4.9 percent raise while adding four school days to the calendar.

The contract, which was negotiated by Janey, also included more than 20 days in sick and personal days. The sick-day provisions were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

“How can anybody taking a paycheck justify that, particularly those working in public schools?” said Michael Drewniak, the Christie spokesman.

Still, Drewniak would not comment on Janey’s fate, either, saying he had no further information to the governor’s or Schundler’s deliberations.