Fine Print: Anderson Says She’ll No Longer Attend School Board Meetings

John Mooney, Founding Editor | February 26, 2014 | Education
Empty chair at advisory board meeting doesn’t much temper the outcry over Newark superintendent’s sweeping reform plans

Newark Board
What happened; Newark schools Superintendent Cami Anderson’s administration yesterday released a letter to stakeholders and others that said she would no longer attend the School Advisory Board’s monthly meetings, which have become forums for intense protests over Anderson’s plans for reorganizing the state’s largest school district.

What it means: The refusal to attend the local meetings is sure to only intensify the criticism of Anderson, as evidenced by another packed meeting last night where students, parents, advocates and union leaders spoke out on a broad range of topics. The board held the meeting as planned, leaving open Anderson’s seat but eliminating from the agenda her report to the board.

The tipping point: Anderson’s distaste for the meetings has been long apparent, not helped by the advisory board’s vote of “no confidence” last year and its continued challenge to her authority and the state’s 20-year control of the district. But the boiling point came last month when Anderson walked off the stage in the midst of a particularly contentious meeting where she was personally scorned and insulted.

Quote: “We have come to realize that one particular venue — the monthly meetings chaired by NPS’ School Advisory Board (SAB) — are no longer focused on achieving educational outcomes for children,” reads the letter. “The dysfunction displayed within this forum sets a bad example for our children, and it’s no longer a place where meaningful interaction and dialogue occurs between NPS and the public.”

Exchange of letters: Anderson’s chief of staff, Charlotte Hitchcock, last week wrote to the board’s president, Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, and asked that she make a greater effort to lead meetings with the “appropriate decorum and adherence to District policy.” Baskerville-Richardson wrote back and said that the tenor of the meetings were Anderson’s own fault, saying she had eschewed “any meaningful dialogue” with the community.

“State Superintendent Anderson, you own this situation,” Baskerville-Richardson wrote.

Some special guests: The board meeting last night was familiar, with a train of people protesting Anderson’s policies and actions ranging from the slow call of a snow day earlier this month to the turning over of four schools to charter operators.

But for the first time, the president of the New Jersey Education Association, Wendell Steinhauer, spoke before the board in protest of Anderson’s attempt to waive state seniority laws in determining planned layoffs of nearly 1,000 teachers.

“They cannot be disregarded simply because she finds them to be inconvenient or an impediment to her plan to gut traditional public schools in Newark,” he said.

Not NJEA territory: The NJEA, the state’s largest teachers union, does not represent Newark teachers, who are members of the separate American Federation of Teachers. But Steinhauer said Anderson’s efforts needed to be headed off in Newark before they are considered in other districts.

What’s next: Anderson said she will continue to stay away until she is convinced the board “can commit to ensuring a space conducive to open
dialogue with the community.”

Until then, she said, she will meet with parent and community organizations, and post the administration’s messages on the district website.