Baraka and Anderson spar over open enrollment in 'One Newark' school plan

By Naomi Nix | The Star-Ledger
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on August 22, 2014

Newark mayor Ras Baraka held a press conference today to criticize Superintendent Cami Anderson and Gov. Chris Christie over the school system's open enrollment system.


NEWARK — Mayor Ras Baraka took a swipe today at Gov. Chris Christie and Superintendent Cami Anderson over the Newark school system's open enrollment system.

"I’ve tried over and over again to play nice, but this is not a nice situation," he said during a press conference in City Hall. " Its time for us to express our outrage on this and to speak up on behalf of parents and children in the city who are obviously being mistreated."

More than 600 parents piled into Newark Vocational High School on Thursday hoping to finalize their children's school assignments at the district's enrollment center.

But many of those parents had to wait for hours without air-conditioning for their number to be called to be processed by a school registration specialist. Hundreds were told to return on Friday even after paying for public transportation or taking off work to get there on Thursday.

The governor's office declined to comment, referring questions to the district and Board of Education. Anderson said in an interview that the school system had hoped to soft launch the enrollment center on Thursday and Friday, but were overloaded with a high number of parents.

"For anyone for whom that was an inconvenience we deeply apologize," she said in an interview today. "We definitely understand why that would be frustrating. We just literly had tipple the amount of people we had planned for present."

Anderson said the district made major changes to the enrollment system mid-day on Thursday, which continued today, including bringing in more district staff members to address parents' concerns.

"I think we responded pretty well," she said. "We were able to regroup."

Baraka and Anderson said that today's operations at the enrollment center have been more orderly.

But Baraka was also said the implementation of One Newark, including arranging for transportation is being planned "off the cuff."

"I've never seen the registration process this crazy," he said. "If this is any indication of the first day of school I think were’ in bad shape."

Anderson said they have been planning for transportation for more than a year, and plan to unveil more details about the school system's shuttle route on Monday.

Baraka was often critical of Christie and Anderson during his mayoral campaign this spring. But until today's press conference, the newly-minted mayor had toned down his criticism of Christie and Anderson.

Meanwhile, Christie has publicly reiterated that the state controls the Newark Public School system. In July, a video surfaced purportedly showing the governor address a Republican audience saying that the told Baraka he was "the decider" on the direction of the Newark public School system.

"I wouldn't want to be the decider over what’s happening," Baraka responded Today. "Whoever is the decider now should obviously get involved and decide to do something about what’s happening in this city immediately."

Baraka added later that he wanted the governor to come to Newark to "overhaul this one Newark plan"

"I'm asking the Governor, who is the decider,come in to the City of Newark and intervene immediately," he said.

Both Baraka and Anderson confirmed the two are scheduled to meet for the first time next week to discuss the One Newark plan.

Baraka also said he is meeting with acting state education Commissioner David Hespe next week, where he hopes to discuss "Newark beyond the superintendent."

Anderson said she is open to talking with Baraka and would have listened to any advice he wanted to offer yesterday.

"I'm always open to his feedback," she said. "I have a bunch of things I want to put on the table as potential points of collaboration."

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