Six months since Newark and its teachers union agreed to a historic new contract, the president of the NTU has publicly blasted Superintendent Cami Anderson over the district’s finances.
“I am writing to you about a serious problem that has persisted in the state-operated district of Newark,” wrote Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, in a stinging letter to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools on Friday.
“Since we came to an agreement on a contract for the teachers, aides, and clerks, we have experienced very serious and disturbing problems regarding the finances of Newark Public Schools,” the letter read.
Calling for an external audit of the district’s books, Del Grosso cited plans for laying off about 120 administrators, 60 attendance officers, and possibly others, and what he called an air of secrecy in the district’s central offices.
A district spokeswoman, Renee Harper, called DelGrosso’s claims “a blatant attempt to divert attention from the serious issues we face in our challenge to deliver excellent schools for all of our kids.”
“We hope that our union partners stop with these grossly unfair allegations and join us in doing what’s right for our kids,” she said in an email.
The district posted a $995 million budget last week for next year, which represents a $30 million cut from this year‘s $1.03 billion. Part of the new budget is an additional $30 million slated for the city’s charter schools.
Adding to the discord, the local board rejected the budget outline earlier this month, a largely symbolic act for a board that has no legal power in the state-run system. Three seats on the advisory board are up for election this coming Tuesday.
In his ninth term as president of the NTU, Del Grosso faces his own internal conflict after approving a contract that was not universally endorsed by his members. The contract includes the state’s first large-scale use of performance bonuses for teachers.
Del Grosso in his letter invoked the infamous name of former Newark superintendent Beverly Hall, who was the state’s first appointee to the district after it seized control in 1995 and was at near-constant odds with the NTU.
She left Newark five years later to be Atlanta’s superintendent, but soon after she moved on a $70 million budget gap in the New Jersey district set off a string of legislative and state reviews. Hall is now under indictment for her alleged role in a widespread cheating scandal in scores of Atlanta’s schools.
“This behavior mirrors ‘the Beverly Hall scandal’ which the legislature helped uncover many years ago,” Del Grosso wrote of Newark’s current budget crisis. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to what is happening to taxpayer money in the state-operated district of Newark.”
DelGrosso also raised the issue of administrative pay, maintaining there are “unconscionable salaries.”
“The public would be shocked to know the number of employees who make more than $175,000 per year in Newark’s central office,” he wrote.
The district’s published list of salaries does not entirely back up the claim, with only Anderson and business administrator Valerie Wilson over that amount. Anderson is listed at $240,000 and Wilson at $189,000. Five assistant superintendents are listed as making $175,000.
Still, Del Grosso said in an interview last night that Anderson continues to hire staff and consultants for her office, while schools are consolidated and programs cut back.
“More people than ever are working for the superintendent while she is talking layoffs of everyone else,” he said.