Newark mayoral candidates to debate education issues tonight

By David Giambusso/The Star-Ledger 

NEWARK — They won't have any authority over the city's schools, but the four men vying to become the next mayor of Newark have a lot of ideas on education.

South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka is principal of Central High School. Shavar Jeffries and North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos are former school board members. Along with Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif, the four mayoral candidates will discuss their ideas on Newark's public schools during a debate that begins at 6 tonight at Science Park High School.

The debate will be hosted by the Newark Education Trust, a non-profit advocacy group led by Ross Danis.

"Our families, students and teachers deserve a rigorous conversation focused on students and solutions," Newark superintendent Cami Anderson said in a statement. "I look forward to listening to the candidate’s ideas and working in partnership with our next Mayor to ensure every single student in Newark is in an excellent school."

Anticipating a central issue in the debate, Newark Charter School Fund CEO Mashea Ashton published an op-ed piece in The Star-Ledger today saying the next Newark mayor has to back charter schools.

"The winner of next May's mayoral election should continue (Cory) Booker's legacy of supporting a comprehensive, portfolio approach to education that includes strong backing for high-quality public charter schools," Ashton wrote.

Ashton said Newark's charter schools had an influx of 2,200 students this year, with 10,000 on wait lists. She cited recent polls that show 70 percent of Newarkers support charter schools.

But there is a strong contingent of activists who oppose charter schools saying they take money from public schools and set up traditional public schools for failure.

While candidates tonight may disagree on charter schools one thing they are sure to agree on is local control of Newark schools. Newark schools have been under state control since 1995.

Local control advocates were hopeful that the courts would return control to Newark after the district scored passing grades on four of five areas the state uses to measure the system's progress.

In July, a panel of state appellate court judges sided with Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who said Newark's low graduation rate and sagging test scores required state officials to remain involved indefinitely.

The Newark mayoral election is in May 2014.

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