Newark mayoral candidates spar over public education

Friday, 21 March 2014 20:32 Local Talk News Editor

 

Perhaps it has been unavoidable that public education keeps emerging as one of the main topics that mayoral candidates Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries are asked to comment on this campaign season.

Both Jeffries and Baraka have educational service on their respective resumes.

South Ward councilman Baraka, for example, is on leave from his Central High School principal's post. The educator and community activist came up from teaching to being an assistant principal at Weequahic High School before an opening at CHS appeared.

Jeffries, also on leave from being a Seton Hall Law School professor, was a Newark Public Schools Advisory Board member for three years. The co-founder of one of the city's charter schools was, for a year, NPSAB President.

Both candidates are asked about NPS education issues on their campaign trails, like at the Newark Trust for Education forum back on Oct. 24. That Science Park High School-sited debate, however, was when Anibal Ramos, Jr. and Darrin Sharif were also running for mayor. (Both converted their campaigns to their respective North and Central Ward re-election runs last month.)

Jeffries and Baraka, however, are asked even when the forms they attend does not have it as the night's topic - like at The Coalition for Healthy Ports' forum on "Good Jobs, Healthy Neighborhoods and Clean Environment" at Essex County College March 3.
Both candidates discussed the likes of converting diesel-powered short-haul independent contracted truckers to electric-powered, unionized employees until the public's turn for questioning came.

Ivy Hill Elementary School PTO President Daryn Martin was midway through asking about whether to remove State Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson when forum moderator Amy Goldsmith stopped him and said, "that question is not germane to our topics."
"Yes it is," said Martin as he walked back to his seat among the 350-member audience in ECC's Smith Hall. "It IS a health issue."

Martin was banned from IVES property Jan. 19 and was later arrested and charged with allegedly assaulting an assistant superintendent there Jan. 15. Martin and the superintendent got into a confrontation over the posting of PTO meeting notices in the West Ward school.
Baraka and Jeffries, between forums, had unveiled respective public education plans Feb. 17-21. Their plans make for a study in comparison and contrast.

Both Jeffries and Baraka want the Newark Public School system to become independent of New Jersey Department of Education control and operation. The state, which has put NPS under direct control since July 1, 1994, has periodically rated the district on progress towards autonomy with QSAC scoring.

Jeffries points to his leadership as NPSAB President in 2011 for NPS making at least 80 percent in four of the five QSAC categories. He considers working "closely with then-Superintendent Clifford Janey to ensure those benchmarks were met."

Baraka favors gaining NPS autonomy through "annual citywide community conferences to discuss relevant issues in school reform, identify needs in schools and neighborhoods and propose solutions and/or programs for implementation."

Baraka and Jeffries have differing views, however, when it comes to bridging academic gaps between charter and public schools. About 9,000 of the city's 40,000 Kindergarten-12th Grade students have moved from among the city's 75 public schools to among the current 25 charter schools. About a quarter of the NPS roughly $735 million 2013 budget are taken up with paying charter tuitions.

Jeffries, stating "I will not ignore the voice of the people when it comes to any issue affecting Newarkers," supports parental choice.
Baraka, declaring, "There's no reason for charter and traditional public schools to be forced to compete for resources," calls for a coalition of shared purposes and goals between the traditional and charter schools.

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