Election made history in Newark, even though the results weren't a surprise

Tuesday marked a historic day for Newark schools.

For the first time in 22 years, residents voting in the local School Board race were electing candidates who will have actual decision-making power over the district -- like the authority to hire and fire the next schools chief

But despite the momentousness, turnout -- as usual -- was dismal. And the likely winners, according to preliminary results, were largely expected. 

With 98 of 110 districts reporting, about 6,700 ballots were cast, appearing to sweep the "Moving Newark Schools Forward," slate into power. Candidates Asia J. Norton, Yambeli Gomez and Dawn Haynes appeared to clinch the majority of the vote among a 13-candidate field, preliminary results from the Essex County Clerk's Office show.

The slate was backed by an alliance (now three years strong) between Mayor Ras Baraka, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos and charter school advocates.

With the major power players aligned, the election was largely quiet, despite the high stakes facing the district. 

The School Board finally regained control of its schools in Februaryafter the state decided the district had made enough gains to end the decades-long takeover. 

"If you think of it from a broad view, this is a real moment -- kind of a historical moment -- this transition process from state control to local control," said Ronald Chaluisan, executive director of the Newark Trust for Education, a nonprofit.

Chaluisan said the city was still in transition and voter turnout may increase over time.

"As people understand how much more relevant it is to their day to day, we'll start to see an uptick in participation," he said. 

Participation in school board races tend to be low when they're not tied to a large race. Last year, the Newark Trust found only 5 percent of 139,000 registered voters cast ballots for school board. With 98 of 110 districts reporting about 6,700 ballots were cast out of 143,000 registered voters.

Three seats were up in this year's race, as none of the incumbent board members up for re-election opted to run.

School Board Chairman Marques-Aquil Lewis and board member Dashay Carter both decided not to run; board member Crystal Fonseca is instead running for East Ward Councilwoman in May's municipal elections.

Lewis, Carter and Fonseca were part of the Children First Team in 2015, supported by Baraka. Fonseca is now running on a slate with Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, who is challenging Baraka for mayor.  

Tuesday's initial results, with 98 of 110 districts reporting, showed the slate dominating the race, by more than 1,000-vote margins. 

Yambeli Gomez received 3,484 votes, preliminary numbers show. She is an aide to At-Large Councilman Eddie Osborne and raised $11,150, campaign finance records show. 

Asia J. Norton is a family engagement coordinator at Liberty Elementary School and received 3,888 votes. Norton raised $8,863, records show.

Dawn Haynes is PTO president at Harriet Tubman Elementary and city employee. She received 4,868 votes, and raised $1,195, records show. 

Among their first task: Selecting a new superintendent. 

The board is searching for a new leader after state-appointed Superintendent Christopher Cerf resigned earlier this year. Under the district's two-year transition plan to local control, a new superintendent will be selected by May 31 and begin July 1. The two-year transition plan sets milestones for the district as it transitions, including a Nov. 6 election that will let residents decide whether they want an elected school board or one appointed by the mayor.

Michele Mason, executive director of the Newark Charter School Fund that helped shape the slate congratulated the new school board members. 

"Today, Newarkers voted to move our schools forward. I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the newest members of the school board - Dawn Haynes, Yambeli Gomez and Asia Norton - to ensure the 55,000 children of our city received the high-quality education they deserve," she said in a statement. 

Here are preliminary results for the remaining candidates:

  • Marcus Allen: 486 votes
  • Denise Cole: 929 votes
  • Che' J. T. Colter: 941 votes
  • Khalil Hannah: 345 votes
  • Robert House: 184 votes
  • Jameel Ibrahim: 942 votes
  • Yolanda Johnson: 680 votes
  • Johnnie Lattner: 353 votes
  • Omayra Molina:822 votes
  • Barbara Anne Todish: 132 votes
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