NEWARK — A controversial consultant’s report recommending that some of Newark’s worst public schools be replaced with charter schools was funded by a $500,000 grant from a California educational foundation at the behest of Mayor Cory Booker.The revelation came in an interview with officials at the foundation late Wednesday. It followed two days in which the mayor declined to provide details about the report: who funded it or the amount spent on it.Contacted by the Star-Ledger, the spokeswoman for the Broad Foundation in Los Angeles readily acknowledged it put up the money that was used to retain Global Education Advisors to conduct an audit of the city’s schools. The spokeswoman said she wondered why the grant was kept secret.
But the S-L isn't even getting the full picture yet, because this isn't the first time Eli Broad and Chris Cerf have run in the same circles:The continuing questions and new revelations about the ties between Cerf, his former consulting firm, and the mayor — drawn from state campaign finance reports and interviews with city advisory board officials and others — came as parents and educators continued to rally against the recommendations that would remake the city’s school system.Cerf said Wednesday there was no conflict with his involvement with Global Education Advisors, or his support of Booker, and reiterated that he severed his connections as soon as he was nominated.A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie said Cerf fully disclosed his ties to Global Education Advisors and described his involvement to the governor’s office."He explained it to us during the vetting process and that he would be ending the association. We were completely satisfied by that," said the spokesman, Michael Drewniak. "It has no conflict with his nomination to be education commissioner."However, Cerf’s public explanations varied from earlier statements just a day earlier, when he said he had done little more than lend his address for the incorporation papers.
So Cerf was trained by the Broads to take high-level education policy positions. Later, they came up with the money for Cerf's firm to push charter schools in Newark, knowing he had once been the president of one of the nation's largest charter contractors, Edison Learning. Cerf took their money and then proceeded to write a report pushing charter schools. And now, thanks in part to his training with Broad, he is set to become the most powerful education official in the state, and establish those very charters.And to further prepare him for his new role, Cerf had graduated from the Broad Superintendents Academy in 2004:
THE BROAD SUPERINTENDENTS ACADEMY IS RUN LIKE AN EXECUTIVE TRAINING PROGRAM. PARTICIPANTS ATTEND EXTENDED WEEKEND SESSIONS OVER THE COURSE OF 10 MONTHS WHILE CONTINUING TO WORK IN THEIR CURRENT JOBS. IN ADDITION TO ATTENDING SESSIONS, FELLOWS WORK WITH A FACULTY ADVISOR WHO PROVIDES LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT, COACHING AND SUPPORT.The Broad Academy was established by Eli and Edythe Broad; Eli is known as an autocratic philanthropist who uses his billions to influence education policy all the way down to the local district level. The Academy actively seeks to bring administrators into school districts who do not have backgrounds in education - a perfect fit for Cerf.
And, for good measure, he threw in a hefty campaign contribution to the Mayor of Newark, just 'cause he likes him so much.
This stinks on ice. Why the hell is Eli Broad, sitting in LA, allowed to have so much influence over educational policies in New Jersey? Why is an outside consulting firm being used to dictate policy choices for the Newark schools? And why does the presumed Commissioner of the NJDOE keep changing his story?
Anyone who has studied Cerf's background could not possibly be surprised by all this. When he was caught in a conflict-of-interest scandal in New York City, he brushed the entire thing off, acting wounded that his good name was being questioned, all while being evasive. Of course, it didn't hurt for him that the investigation into his improprieties was heavily redacted when finally released to the public.
But even more troubling is Cerf's predilection for slipping back and forth between the private and public education worlds. Is there anyone who thinks this guy won't run off to a cushy job in the emerging education-industrial complex the minute his tenure at the NJDOE is over, just like Joel Klein, Cerf's former boss?
Cerf needs a hard, serious public vetting at his confirmation hearings. Democrats, are you up to this challenge?
One more thing: I have been very, very hard on the Star-Ledger in the past, especially when it comes to education reporting. But Bob Braun (who is on top of another important story about Christie's abuse of power), Jessica Calefeti, and the other staff members on this story deserve great credit for pursuing it. As do their editors.