Christie calls Baraka funding criticisms part of 'pro-union' agenda

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on April 26, 2016

NEWARK – Gov. Chris Christie has fired back at criticisms from Mayor Ras Baraka, saying Newark has only itself to blame for its struggles with school funding.

Earlier Tuesday, Baraka placed blame on Christie and the state for a newly introduced school budget that would increase Newark taxpayers' share by more than 10 percent. Much of Baraka's criticism centered around the growth of charter schools in Newark, which he maintain siphons vital dollars from their already struggling traditional public counterparts.

Christie wasted no time in responding, saying charters' spread were a direct reaction to decades of academic failure in the city, perpetuated by an "antiquated system which protects poorly performing teachers and hurts students."

"As the mayor knows, the demand for public charter schools grows every year in his city," he said. "Unfortunately, the mayor pursues policies which look to close the doors of new or expanded public charter schools to Newark families in order to pursue his pro-union political agenda. The state will stop him from doing so."

The spat marks the latest conflict between Baraka and Christie over the future of the state's largest public school district.

While the two struck common ground last year by negotiating to return control of the city's schools to local officials after more than 20 years, they have continued to clash over funding issues, particularly around the growth of charters.

As recently as last month, Christie threatened to "run over" Baraka or any other opponents to continue building the reform-minded schools – prompting angry responses from the mayor and State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex, Morris).

On Tuesday, he reminded Baraka that while Newark's share of its education costs might be on the way up, state taxpayers continue to foot the bill for $803 million of the district's $1 billion budget – a figure that will rise to $829 million over the 2016-17 fiscal year.

"(Baraka) should consult his fellow mayors in the suburbs and rural areas whose property taxes are artificially high due to this court-ordered disproportionate aid to the Newark school district," Christie said.

"Maybe the mayor would then have a greater perspective on the challenges that mayors and school boards all over New Jersey are facing rather than complaining about the hundreds of millions of dollars New Jerseyans already send to the Newark School District."

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