State’s ‘One Newark’ Plan May be Facing Tough Audience in Trenton

John Mooney | March 10, 2014 | Education
Some legislators have already made displeasure known -- critics, union members, community organizers to be on hand

Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex).
The controversial One Newark plan for reorganizing New Jersey’s largest school district has not been short of public forums, with local meetings around the city sparking acrimonious debate for months.

Now the plan that calls for the closing and consolidation of a half-dozen schools and the potential layoff of hundreds of teachers will get its formal hearing in Trenton — and maybe before no more sympathetic an audience.

The legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools will host a hearing on Tuesday morning to hear testimony on the One Newark plan.

It will be the committee’s first meeting of the new session, with the chief order of business to name officers and various subcommittees.

But the One Newark discussion will be the highlight event, with a number of critics among the invited guests, and committee members already raising questions and concerns.

The committee has invited a range of speakers, including the chair of the local School Advisory Board, Antoinette Baskerville Richardson. It will also hear from union leaders and academic and legal experts who have been critical of the state’s operation of the district.

The hearing may be short of defenders of Anderson’s plan. Officials of the state Department of Education are not expected to testify, and a spokesman for state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson could not confirm whether she or her staff would attend.

At the center of the debate has been the extensive plans laid out by Anderson this winter to drastically reorganize the district, including the turnover of four schools to charter operators.

More recently, Anderson sparked a new furor with her request to the state to waive seniority rules in the layoff of as many as 1,000 teachers in the next three years to address shrinking enrollments.

The district provided a copy of the full waiver request last week.

The plans have already drawn intense protest from state legislators, including members of the joint committee. State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) has led the push-back in the Legislature against Newark’s planned school closings, sponsoring a bill that would add an extensive public process to any closure statewide. Rice is the past chairman and leading voice on the Joint Committee.

And state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) has crafted a resolution that passed both the Senate and Assembly objecting to the waiver request as counter to the state law that protects seniority rights. Ruiz is also a member of the Joint Committee.