Fine Print: Anderson Answers Legislature’s Questions About ‘One Newark,’ Budget

Newark schools superintendent submits 35-page response to legislators’ questions in preview of follow-up hearing today

Credit: NJTV
Cami Anderson, Newark's superintendent of schools.
What it is: Newark schools Superintendent Cami Anderson came before the Joint Committee on Public Schools in January and faced four hours of sometimes-heated questioning from legislators over her controversial tenure in the state-run district and specifically her “One Newark” reorganization plan. As part of the questioning, the committee submitted more than 80 questions for follow-up. On Feb. 13, Anderson responded to those questions in a 35-page report.

What it means: Anderson, who was informed by the Christie administration two weeks ago that her contract would be renewed for another year, offers some of her most candid assessments yet of both progress and problems in the district. While highlighting accomplishments, she also laid out stark numbers for a district that is seeing a deepening fiscal crisis, including having nearly a quarter of its overall expenditures this year going to charter schools.

A timely report: The release of the report comes as the Joint Committee hosts a follow-up hearing today for those who want to speak to the Newark issues, pro or con. The hearing is slated for 10 a.m. at the Statehouse in Trenton.

Familiar ground: The report lays out accomplishments that Anderson has been trumpeting for months, if not longer, including a rising graduation rate in the high schools and retention of the district’s highest-performing teachers.

Dark clouds: Anderson pulls few punches in pointing out that the district due to charter school growth and other factors will see enrollment drop within two years by a third from what it was just five years ago.

“By 2016, NPS will serve approximately 30,000 students—a 33% decline from the 45,000 students it served in 2008. While this trend has resulted in increased choice and opportunity for many Newark students, it has led to a significant reduction in funding to the district. Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining and improving our district schools has not declined at the same pace.”

The charter price-tag: This year, the district paid more than 20 charter schools a total of $213 million to educate Newark children, close to a quarter of the district’s overall budget. While fewer students meant some cost savings, Anderson said the district needed to layoff close to 170 non-instructional staff.

“Educators without placement:” Among the most controversial byproducts of Anderson’s “One Newark” reorganization plans are the scores of teachers designated as “educators without placement.” While these teachers have been working in one school setting or another as substitutes or tutors, they have not been picked up by schools for staff teaching jobs of their own. Anderson, in her report, keeping those teachers in the “educators without placement” pool cost the district about $20.6 million this year.

Pink Hula Hoop: Another point of controversy has been the district’s sale of the former 18th Avenue School to the KIPP charter school network, through a subsidiary called Pink Hula Hoop. The deal has been a special target of the state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), co-chairman of the joint committee, who maintains it was a sweetheart deal for Anderson’s friends and allies and asked for a state investigation. Anderson answers with a page-long summary of the sale, including her disclaimer of any close ties to any of the key players.

One Newark’s mysterious algorithm: The joint committee also asked for the detailed formula being used by the district in its new “One Newark universal enrollment system. The answer has been elusive, but Anderson provides new details explaining how students are selected based on geography and need.