Baraka joins forces with rivals to form Newark school board 'unity' slate

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on January 23, 2016

Members of the newly formed "Newark Unity" slate, who are seeking seats on the NEwark School Advisory Board in an April election. From left: Leah Owens, Octavio "Tave" Padilla and Kim Gaddy.

 

NEWARK — With school board elections just three months away, a number of seasoned rivals in the city's highly charged education debate have decided to lay down their arms.

A surprising partnership between Mayor Ras Baraka, charter school advocates and other local political heavyweights has produced the "Newark Unity" slate — a rainbow coalition aimed at diffusing the hostile rhetoric that often arrives part and parcel with campaigns for city office.

"Political bickering amongst adults doesn't serve children well. When adults bicker politically, children are caught in the crossfire," said Muhammad Akil, Executive Director of the Parent Coalition for Excellent Education (PC2E), which helped coordinate the ticket.

"At the end of the day, all the camps wanted to do what was right."

The slate represents interests from across Newark's political landscape, including an increasingly mobilized bloc of charter school supporters represented by Kim Gaddy - an environmental justice organizer and former who has served on the school board and as chief of staff to Council President Mildred Crump.

Leah Owens, a former Central High School teacher and an organizer with New Jersey Communites United - an organization that has been among the most vocal critics of state-backed school reform efforts - will run on behalf of Baraka's "Children First" team.

Octavio "Tave" Padilla will represent For Our Kids, backed by North Ward power broker Steve Adubato. Padilla is an employee at Adubato's charter school, Robert Treat Academy, and served as chief of staff to former Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo.

In past elections, both Children First and For Our Kids have fielded three-person tickets to engage in often-heated battles between the city's rival political camps.

"Over the years it's just been this clash that has taken the focus off of quality education," said Anthony Salters, a local political operative who helped coordinate Newark Unity.

"That's one thing that all three of these leaders have agreed on, that the focus needs to be on quality schools and quality education for all Newark students."

The cooperation comes as an added surprise given the recent public clashes between Baraka and education reform group over his request to halt the expansion of local charter schools until the state agrees to fully fund their public counterparts.

In a statement, the mayor acknowledged that he still shares "fundamental disagreements" with other backers of the slate, but said the dire state of school finances in Newark required that they be put aside.

"At this time we need to overcome our differences, to work together, to unite to ensure that all of our children get the very best education," he said. "We must move beyond the fighting, ideological wars and turmoil."

The trio of Newark Unity candidates will compete for seats currently held by board members Ariagna Perello, Khalil Rashidi and Rashon Hasan — all of whom ran on the Children First slate in 2013. Various other hopefuls on all sides of the public-charter debate had already begun fundraising and laying groundwork for campaigns of their own, though it remains to be seen whether the new slate might affect those plans.

Owens, Gaddy and Padilla all claim experience in both education and politics — backgrounds that are likely to be come in handy as the city moves closer to regaining local control over its schools after more than 20 years of state oversight. The winners of the April 19 election will win terms though 2019, by which time the board is likely to shed its current advisory status and assume true governing power over the district.

"We want candidates who have the capability to manage a nearly billion dollar budget," said Akil, who promised that P2CE, which bills itself as an advocacy organization, would play no direct role in the campaign.

"We think that this slate is the first step."

Salters said the candidates on the unity ticket would not be pressured to mold their views on the future of Newark's school system into a cohesive platform. Instead, they had agreed only to run a campaign that values respect over rancor.

"These three organizations are coming together to change the conversation," he said. "We think it's a tremendous step in the right direction.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment