The four men who seek to succeed Newark Mayor Cory Booker next year met is a sometimes raucous forum last night focusing on public education, a favorite topic of the outgoing mayor.
But they barely mentioned Booker’s name – only one uttered it at all – as the four hopefuls gave their own views of what role the mayor should play in the state-run school district that has been thrown into the national spotlight by Gov. Chris Christie’s ongoing reforms and the $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Facing a partisan full house at Science Park High School, the candidates were asked about their education priorities, especially regarding the state’s ongoing control of the district. The office of mayor currently has no official role in the schools but, as Booker showed, can still have considerable influence.
The forum was hosted by the Newark Trust for Education, a local education trust that supports programs throughout the city.
Following are excerpts from each candidate’s comments on the mayor’s role in relation to Newark’s schools:
Anibal Ramos, North Ward councilman and former school advisory board member:
“I am running for mayor, not superintendent of schools, and I believe the next mayor of the city needs to be focused on supporting our schools, advocating on behalf of children and parents, and partnering with the school district. As your mayor, I will work every day in partnering with the district to remove those obstacles that impact children’s ability to learn. We are talking about creating safe passages to schools and insuring every child have access to a quality environment to live. ”
“We all want to see our schools return to local control, but what I tell parents and advocates is that with local control comes a greater sense of local responsibility. As a municipality, we need to be prepared to invest in after-school activities, we need to be prepared to invest in summer enrichment activities. I want to create an Office on Education in the mayor’s office to highlight some of the things going on in the school district.”
Ras Baraka, South Ward councilman and principal of Newark’s Central High School:
“While you are not running for superintendent of schools, you are running as superintendent of the city. What is important is that Newark Public Schools are not separate from the city. That’s the problem, the school system has been functioning by itself, apart from Newark as a whole. That is why there so much dissension, people are making decisions for families as it relates to education and not including the families in that discussion.”
“When we close schools and push kids to another neighborhood, we don’t think about the problems in the other neighborhood. We talk about co-located charter schools in a neighborhood without talking to people in the neighborhoods. Co-location is more like colonization. This level of inequity that permeates this district is something we have to attack.”
Darrin Sharif, Central Ward councilman and Urban League of Essex County director:
“Every person in this room wants local control, but the more important question we should ask and wrestle with is what is the plan if we regain local control. There is so much that is political and people want to get local control for all the wrong reasons. Let’s be real, if we’re having this conversation. The state took the schools from us for very specific reasons, and some of those reasons we have to safeguard against so that when we get local control, we are ready to receive it.”
Shavar Jeffries, Seton Hall law professor and advisory school board member:
“Every four years, people will talk and talk some more, but you need a mayor who can get things done. Not only those who can move the needle on local control, but to help our kids get our kids to and through college. Seventy five percent of our jobs require an education past high school, and we can barely get half of our kids through high school.”
“I have been a strong fighter for more options for our children and their parents. I have made sure that low-income families have the same options as the political elites. Whether it is public charter options, or new options within Newark Public Schools, this gives the power to you, not the politicians. When you make the choice, you have the power. If you don’t have choices, the politicians make the choices for you.