Posters are unfairly attacking Newark schools chief for calling for 4 charter schools to close: Mayor Baraka

Posted Jan 31, 2020

By Ras Baraka

First and foremost, Superintendent León has no authority to close charter schools. The decision comes from state Education Commissioner Dr. Lamont Repollet, Baraka says.

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Several years ago, when state-appointed superintendents closed more than 20 Newark Public Schools, they said it was a necessary step to strengthen our public education system.

Most city residents accepted these decisions, despite the displacement of children from neighborhood schools and added transportation stresses for their parents. I do not recall tasteless flyers portraying those school leaders as despots circulating around the city, like those aimed at current Superintendent Roger León today, attacking him over his recommendation to close four charter schools.

The posters are not only mean-spirited, but based on ignorance of actualities.

Let’s begin with the facts.

  • First and foremost, Superintendent León has no authority to close charter schools. The decision comes from state Education Commissioner Dr. Lamont Repollet.
  • Equally important, it is the superintendent’s obligation to report the performance of all Newark schools to the state and supply honest, data-driven evaluations of schools.
  • No superintendent in the state acts in a vacuum. All charter school renewals require the state education department to visit the schools and review academic and financial records. This independent review ensures the state not rely entirely on the school district’s recommendations.
  • Two of the four schools Superintendent León recommended for non-renewal were put on probation by the state last year for poor academic performance and safety standards.
  • A third school, based on Superintendent León’s assessment, has enrolled more students than allowed and cherry-picked students from the district’s waiting list, giving some students a chance to enroll before their turn. That school is taking space at Bard Early College High, one of Newark’s most successful and growing public schools.
  • In his recommendation to the state, Superintendent León cited the schools lack of programs for special needs students and those from non-English speaking homes.
  • Newark Public Schools are outperforming three of the four schools Superintendent León recommended for non-renewal. Only one school fared as well as our own schools.

Superintendent León is making the same argument the state made when it closed our public schools under previous Board of Education administrations. He has the right -- and obligation -- to assess all schools in Newark and make sound recommendations on how our limited resources are used to continue to move our district forward.

Closing schools is very emotional. It uproots communities and families and it should be done thoughtfully, not arbitrarily. I am confident that Commissioner Repollet and Superintendent León will do just that.

Ras J. Baraka is the mayor of the City of Newark.

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