Finally out from under state control, Newark residents must vote in large numbers | Opinion

Posted Mar 02, 2020

By Ronald Chaluisán Batlle

On April 21, 2020, Newarkers will finally have the chance to choose. The question is: will they go to the polls in large numbers so they can participate in addressing the critical issues facing the city's public education ecosystem?


On July 12, 1995, history was made when Newark schools came under state control. On July 12, 1995, history was made when the people of Newark began their struggle to regain the right to choose their public school leadership.

Now, on April 21, 2020, Newarkers will finally have the chance to choose. The question is: will they go to the polls in large numbers so they can participate in addressing the critical issues facing the city’s public education ecosystem? Will they go out and vote, aligning their actions with the ideas present in the civics curriculum that the district is restoring to the curriculum? Or will they stay home?

Newarkers have been fighting against the idea of state control of the school system for at least 50 years and for the right to select their school leadership for 25 years.

In 1969, then-Gov. Richard Hughes, in response to his beliefs concerning the underlying reasons for the Newark Rebellion, introduced legislation to wrest control from Newark’s public schools. The legislature did not take action; however, the governor had planted a seed. Twenty-four years later, in October of 1992, the state began monitoring the district and found Newark schools deficient.

In 1993, the state initiated a comprehensive compliance investigation and appointed an auditor general to the school board. Based on the investigation, the commissioner of education, Leo Klagholz, announced his plan to take over the school system. A court battle ensued and resulted in Judge Stephen G. Weiss recommending a quick takeover. On July 12, 1995, the state dismissed Superintendent Eugene Campbell and other district officials, placing the district under state control.

This April's election will be the first time since the state-takeover that the district will be entirely out from under state control. A large turnout in this election will demonstrate Newarkers' determination to select the district's leadership.

A large turnout will confirm their desire to hold leadership accountable for its decisions. Newarkers have many ideas for how to move forward. They have debated curricular choices, disciplinary options, and admission policies. They have questioned the role of partners in

schools. They have differing opinions on the relationship between the charter sector and the district. They have advocated for different forms of parental involvement.

What issues should the district prioritize? How should it allocate the budget? What is the most effective relationship between the charter sector and the district? The election provides Newarkers with the opportunity to engage candidates in rigorous debate on these and other questions critical to the establishment of a productive educational ecosystem. It allows them to study the candidates' positions on the most critical issues at this moment in Newark's development. It provides them with the opportunity to select a candidate who represents their viewpoint and amplifies their voice in decision-making.

Finally, at a time when the district is restoring civics in the curriculum, broad participation in this election allows Newarkers to model for its young people active engagement in the democratic process.

Effective classroom learning opportunities provide young people with the knowledge, skills, and tools to participate actively in the democratic process. They allow students to explore multiple perspectives. They encourage students to consider the pros and cons of each situation, to determine the most influential position, and to defend their choices. Newarkers' active participation in the school board election augments the learning of young people in newly restored civics classrooms across Newark; it demonstrates the importance of civics education in the city of Newark and the criticality of young people's active involvement in the decision-making process.

In April of 2018, the Essex County clerk reported that just 5% or 7,288 of the 214,436 registered voters cast ballots in Newark’s school board election. Registering to vote, if you have not already done so, and voting on April 7, 2020, will make 2020 the year in which Newarkers break the trend of low voter turnout for school board elections.

Newarkers have restored local control to Newark. The struggle has been worth it. It is time to use the electoral process to make their voices heard on the future of public education in Newark.


Ronald Chaluisán Batlle is the executive director of the Newark Trust for Education.

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