Fine Print: Unions Withhold Support for Newark’s New ‘Race to the Top’ Bid

John Mooney | October 4, 2013 | Education
About a dozen other federal aid applications are expected from NJ, representing more than 30 school districts

cami anderson
What is it: Newark Public Schools under state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson yesterday filed its application to the federal Race to the Top competition, seeking up to $30 million for new programs to enhance “personalized learning” and to advance technology. The district was a finalist last year with a similar proposal, but fell short.

What is missing In a battle that spilled into the public yesterday, the Newark Teachers Union refused to sign on to the application, contending it was never consulted and didn’t agree with much of the plan.

Dead on arrival: Union support is one of the requirements of the application process. Nevertheless, Anderson made a last-ditch effort to get an exception, sending a letter to U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan that listed what she said were more than 20 times that her office reached out to the union. Noting that the application is not much different from last year’s, she asked that the NTU’s support of the 2012 proposal be used instead.

Quote: “We are surprised and disappointed that our attempts at engagement and dialogue have been unanswered,” Anderson wrote.

NTU response: “I can’t sign this document in good conscience,” union President Joseph Del Grosso said last night. “To say that I agree with all of it and we were consulted, I would be a liar.”

Busy day himself: Del Grosso said the Christie administration tried several times yesterday to get him to change his mind, including a call from from state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. Newark Mayor Cory Booker also called, as did the office of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.

Not among his callers: “I haven’t talked to the superintendent since June,” Del Grosso said.

Battling press releases: In the morning, the NTU put out a press release blasting the application, saying it calls for paying consultants and other outside vendors at a time that Anderson has laid off some staff. The union cited a $600,000 line item to provide public events for charter schools and another $1 million for a student survey.

The rebuttal: Cami’s spokesman, Matt Frankel, wrote back seeking to refute the claims one by one. For example, he said the charter school event coordinator position was in last year’s application, which the NTU signed, but was not included in this year’s. The survey was encouraged as part of the application process itself, Frankel noted. In addition, Anderson sent a note to supporters, asking them to try to persuade Del Grosso to sign. “I am turning to you for help; please help us obtain Joe’s signature so we can meet the deadline,” she wrote.

2012 redux: Newark’s proposal last year did make it into the final round, but fell short with a total score of 180, almost 20 points short of the last winner. While that application did have the support of the NTU, reviewers cited it for a range of shortcomings, including questions about whether it had the capacity to live up to its promises.

Other applicants: New Jersey was expected to see about a dozen applications sent in this round, including several submitted by a consortium of districts applying together. Thirty-seven districts in all filed notices of intent to apply in August, including Paterson, Camden, Rahway, Teaneck and Hamilton.

Fed shutdown: Even with furloughs and suspended services, the shutdown of the federal government did not affect deadlines for this program. The U.S. Department of Education posted on its website yesterday that the 4:30 p.m. deadline would stand, forcing Newark Public Schools to hire a courier to get the application to Washington on time. Only districts in emergency zones of Colorado, where there has been severe flooding, were permitted to file for extensions.