Opinion: State Board Should Reject Cerf’s Superintendent Contract for Newark

By Ronald Rice | 07/06/15

PolitickerNJ

State Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28)

 

The immediate return of the Newark Public Schools district to local control must continue to be the priority of the State Board of Education members, and of residents, elected officials, parents, students and workers in Newark.

It certainly has been my priority and will remain so until we in Newark, like every other community, can once again control our own destiny. After two decades of state control, a series of administrations in Trenton that have failed our children, and the past-due departure of a failed superintendent, we are on the verge of what could be a defining moment for our community. We need the right people in place to assure our district’s success.

As the New Jersey State Senator representing Newark, I am opposed to the former Commissioner of Education becoming the Superintendent of the Newark Public Schools under the auspices articulated by the governor of returning the district to local control.

The State Board of Education members should not approve a contract of any kind for former Commissioner Christopher Cerf. In fact they should ask themselves: Why would a former State Commissioner of Education want to come back to be superintendent of the Newark Public Schools given the many unanswered questions that remained after he resigned his position in Trenton? There are questions about his veracity, integrity and the business dealings that took place prior to his becoming the commissioner and during his tenure.

For those who have short memories of who Christopher Cerf really is, whom he represents and what he represents, let me remind you.

There are still serious questions regarding Cerf’s ties to individuals involved in the purchase of the 18th Avenue School in Newark. The public school building was sold by the district – a process overseen by state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson – and eventually conveyed to an outfit called ‘Pink Hula Hoop.’ The ‘company,’ Pink Hula Hoop LLC, was run by a former business partner of Cerf who worked with him on charter school efforts in New York.

Cerf and Anderson have never answered questions about potential conflicts of interest in that deal, nor addressed the badly flawed bidding process that seemed to have given their ‘friends’ an advantage in acquiring the school.

Remember also that it was Cerf who changed the Newark Public Schools passing QSAC indicator scores to failing scores in order to prevent the district from being returned to local control.

And it was Cerf who was calling the shots in Trenton as Cami Anderson implemented the disastrous “One Newark” plan and refused to take input from the community on issues affecting the students and residents.

I know that Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has not lost sight of the fact that Governor Christie and Christopher Cerf cannot be trusted. Both are habitual prevaricators.

Mayor Baraka must remain cautious, and all of us who support him must remain vigilant, because I have no doubt that the governor and his allies will attempt to manipulate this process for their own personal and political gain. We must all protect our district against the deceit that could come from any ‘promise’ the Governor makes regarding local control as he runs for the Office of President.

Public education, minorities, the disadvantaged and the problems associated with urban communities have never been a sincere priority of Governor Christie. His interest has always been to support an agenda that will allow the wealthy to profit off the backs of urban communities and school districts.

But the residents, students, parents and staff in Newark deserve better.

The state board of education members must do their homework this time around in researching and understanding Cerf’s checkered history and questionable activities and relationships. They must take seriously their fiduciary and statutory responsibility to the children, taxpayers and voters.

To approve a contract for Cerf would mean they are turning their backs on Newark Public Schools children who are predominantly minorities and immigrants from low-income families.

Given all that he knows about Cerf’s background and conflicting and questionable business relationships, state Education Commissioner David Hespe, who is also an attorney, should tell the Governor that in good faith he cannot recommend Cerf to be the interim school superintendent. He also should not risk his license in allowing this to go forward.

The sale of 18th Avenue School and the questionable “Pink Hula Hoop” deal as well as other questionable activities involving Cami Anderson’s and Cerf’s circle of friends, the Newark Public Schools finances, personnel and awarding of contracts must be investigated by the U.S. Attorney General’s Office or the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office.

If there is any wrongdoing or criminal activity discovered in an investigation and/or audit, the failure of the state board members, who have been put on notice to do their due diligence regarding allegations referencing Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf could make board members legally vulnerable and liable.

The board members are more than justified at this point to reject in good conscience the recommendation by Commissioner Hespe to approve a contract for Cerf to be Newark’s Public Schools District Superintendent. On July 8th, the state board will meet to consider the appointment. They should reject!

Senator Ronald L. Rice represents the 28th Legislative District.

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