Op-Ed: What Has Happened to the Mayor Ras Baraka We Put into Office?

Trina Scordo | March 3, 2016 | Opinion
Mayor must recommit himself and his administration to the promises he made to Newark’s parents, students, and teachers

Trina Scordo is the executive director of New Jersey Communities United.
Ras Baraka’s election to the mayor’s office was a mandate against Chris Christie, Cami Anderson, the charter school takeover of the Newark Public School system, and Wall Street-funded efforts to take over Newark’s resources. Leading up to his election, students, parents, teachers, and community leaders took over the streets of Newark with rallies, marches, and civil disobediences demanding local control, an end to the disastrous “One Newark” plan, and full funding for public schools. Simultaneously, the Alliance for Newark Public Schools, New Jersey Communities United, and several of our community partners, held a series of public meetings to discuss an alternative to charter expansion — community schools. The public outcry was deafening and the community school approach easily won over the hearts and minds of Newark’s concerned parents.

The organized force of Newark residents put Ras Baraka in office, and provided him the authority and power he needed to push back on Christie’s dream of a corporate-backed Wall Street takeover of our public schools. Cami Anderson was unceremoniously deposed. A plan for opening locally controlled community schools was put forward as an alternative to charter expansion. And a there was a commitment to return to local control.

Despite the organized will of the people, Mayor Baraka has decided that cutting deals with the Wall Street-influenced charter school industry is more politically expedient than following the will of the people.

His appointees to the planning board approved a new Uncommon charter school. He announced a “unity slate” of candidates to the school board that includes pro-charter advocates. And most recently, he allowed the community schools plan to be derailed by Cerf and Christie into a charter-school expansion plan.

We’re now left with the question: “Where is the Ras Baraka we elected into office?”

City Hall has become notoriously disorganized and lacks transparency. On the issue of public schools, Ras’s strongest supporters are left to learn about his deals from rumors and news articles. And we are not alone in this analysis. In conversations with our members and community partners, there is growing concern that the Mayor cannot be trusted on issues related to Newark public schools. All signs point to the fact that City Hall has sold out the movement to protect Newark’s public schools.

While the mayor seems to have changed his vision for the future of Newark’s public schools, ours has not. NJ Communities United, our members, and our community partners, remain steadfastly committed to the local control of all Newark resources, including our public schools. We will continue to organize and fight for local control, for a moratorium on charter-school expansion, for full funding for our public schools, and for an end to the corporate driven, neighborhood destabilizing “One Newark” plan.

We invite the mayor to stand in solidarity with these demands — not through his words, but through his actions.

Mayor Baraka must recommit himself and his administration to the promises he made to Newark’s parents, students, and teachers. He needs to rebuild the lines of communication with the voters and community organizations that fought to put him into office. He must join the resistance to the corporate takeover of our democracy. The mayor needs to use his power to block charter-expansion efforts; create true, locally controlled community schools; and demand that the state return local control to the people of Newark. Otherwise, he is simply aligning himself with the established corporate rulers and he will join the ranks of those elected leaders who have become targets for demonstrations and protests.

His candidacy was never about one election. It was and is about the growing movement for local control in the City of Newark.