Ras Baraka sends letter to President Obama criticizing 'One Newark' school overhaul

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on October 16, 2014

 

NEWARK — Newark mayor Ras Baraka has not been shy about his opposition to Newark Public Schools controversial reorganization.

Baraka has participated in rallies, held disparaging press conferences and even called for Superintendent Cami Anderson's resignation.

Now, the newly-minted mayor is appealing to another authority: President Barack Obama.

Baraka released an Oct. 1 letter he sent to Obama, asking the President to intervene in the "disruptive and illegal education reforms" taking place in the school district.

The school district responded but did not immediately comment. The New Jersey Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"Under the One Newark Plan State Superintendent Anderson is utilizing reforms that lack a a research base and that violate numerous federal, state and district policies", Baraka wrote.

"In so doing, State Superintendent Anderson is running roughshod over the very policies intended to ensure accountability and democratic governance of our schools."

Baraka alleges in his letter that the school district's open enrollment process, a lottery in which parents rank preferred school placements for the children, has created barriers of access for students with disabilities by inconsistently dolling out information to parents.

The mayor also accused the district of violating state limitations for class size and standards-based instruction among other alleged violations.

In his letter, Baraka also takes aim at the state's Department of Education for not returning control of the school system to Newark residents despite continuing improvement on the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum, the test the state uses to determine when to take over a school district.

"The state's refusal to return local control of NPS to the democratically elected school-board has usurped the rights of Newark residents to have input into the governance of the public schools in our city," he wrote.

Baraka's letter comes amid increasing public outcry from activists and local elected officials over One Newark, a reorganization plan that expands charters, relocates some school communities and changes leadership in existing schools.

Community activist groups have held rallies and protests. Meanwhile, the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board has voted to freeze her salary, and announced it intends to seek legal action to stop the plan.

A civil rights complaint filed by a local education advocacy organization predated the announcement of a federal investigation into the One Newark plan.

But Anderson said on Tuesday she has no plans of changing course, saying bold action was necessary to fix a broken school system. She said there is already evidence that the plan is working.

"While we have certainly faced our challenges, we are not going to stop," she told a handful of reporters at The Newark Club. "100 excellent schools. Every single kid. This is our passion. This is our mission."

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