I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Under @GovChristie, State Control of Urban Schools Is a Disaster

The fiscal failures of Chris Christie are well-documented at this point: huge budget woes, no payments to the pension that were required under his own plan, bond ratings in a downward spiral, and the withering of Atlantic City's gaming industry have all occurred on Christie's watch.

But we should also take a moment to acknowledge the failure of Governor Christie to competently administer the four large urban districts -- Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, and Camden -- under his charge. 

As there is little to no control by local authorities in these districts, Chris Christie retains nearly total authority over them. His appointed state superintendents answer only to him and Education Commissioner David Hespe. They and they alone are responsible for the satisfactory management of these school systems.

So, how's that going? Let's start with Newark, and hear from Bob Braun [all emphases mine]:
Cami Anderson, Chris Christie’s overseer of the Newark schools, spent a good part of the first day of school traveling to schools she knew would be orderly, stopping along the way to give impromptu news conferences in which she praised her “One Newark” plan. She apparently missed the scores of empty buses roaming the streets in search of children, the anxious parents still trying to find placement for their kids, and the complete lack of transportation for special education students. Cami was doing her illusionist’s trick.
Wilhelmina Holder, leader of the Secondary School Council, declared the boycott a “huge success” and said as many as 50 percent of children stayed away. I  believe her.
I do because these are some of the things I saw in the early morning hours of Thursday. I saw–scores of empty buses waiting in vain for students and then driving off from one “hub” to another. According to board member Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Cami is spending an unexpected $4 million on transportation to feed her “One Newark” ambitions and, yesterday at least, most of that money was wasted.
Maybe she’ll have to cut back on lunches.
This is what I saw: Little children in crisp and clean new clothes and matching backpacks blocked at the schoolhouse door–in this case Hawthorne Avenue–but denied entry because some overpaid and undereducated bureaucrat, possibly related to Cami by business or political connections, screwed up her registration. To me, memories of Orville Faubus and George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door. 
“What am I supposed to do?” said one mother of three children, Jenufah Fuller. Watching the bright look of anticipation curdle into fear and disappointment in the eyes of Darius, Mahogany, and Janiyah was enough to ruin any optimist’s day.
Anderson has lost so much credibility with the community that the students are walking out of school in protest (according to Braun, Kristin Towkaniuk, a NPS senior and head of the Newark Students Union, had her hand broken by police during the protest).

Meanwhile, in Camden:
Now let's fast forward to the first day of school, September 2, 2014. What should have been an exciting new adventure for the children, ended up being a nightmare for them and their families. Despite Mr. [Paymon] Rouhanifard's promises, schools were grossly understaffed and had substitutes in place of many of the permanent teachers. 
I contacted the Superintendent and asked for a rapid solution to my son's 1st grade class not having a permanent licensed teacher. I received a call from a member of the Superintendent's team who indicated that there were many last minute retirees whom they hadn't planned on having to replace and that the superintendent was working to resolve the problem, but had no idea how soon that would be. 
A good manager would have been prepared for these kinds of situations and would not have created a work environment that drove away his most experienced teachers.
I began to hear from more parents across the city about substitute teachers at their schools. Now I don't know the exact number of vacancies but what I managed to put together is a disheartening list. 

  • Sharp Elementary needs a 1st, 4th, 5th, as well as a music teacher 
  • Brimm Medical Arts needs Mandarin Chinese and Business Education teachers 
  • orkship needs a 6th grade and two 5th grade teachers and a Media teacher 
  • Whittier Elementary needs 1st and 3rd grade teachers as well as teachers of Art, Spanish, Media and libra. They have 0 inclusion teachers for grades 6-8 (not even a sub).       
  • They have one 7th grade class with 31 students 
  • Cooper's Point needs a 6th grade math teacher 
  • Wiggins has vacancies in 3rd grade Spanish, 4th grade inclusion, 7th grade math, and needs a librarian 
  • Pyne Point is missing a librarian and a music teacher. 
  • Cramer needs kindergarten, 1st, 3rd and 5th grades teachers 
  • Vets has a shortage of 2 art, 1 social studies and 1 science teacher
  • I've also had complaints from many schools about a shortage of speech therapists. Whittier has none and ECDC has only 1 for the entire school. 
    There are many vacancies in inclusion classes also. IEP students need special accomodations as well security and stability. I spoke to one parent of an IEP kindergarten student who has to transfer her child several times was initially transferred to Sumner. At Sumner there was no kindergarten teacher and now her child is being transferred to Yorkship. This mom isn't alone. There are many parents of special needs children who are getting the run-around. This is a scary situation for these parents as well as their children. 
    It is inexcusable that Superintendent Rouhanifard allowed a new school year to begin without properly staffing our schools. It seems as though our public schools are being set up for failure.
    That's Camden parent and activist Carmen Crespo, as published by Stephen Danley and Blue Jersey. Rouhanifard, naturally, denies there is a problem:
    State-appointed Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said yesterday that he met with a group of parents and assured them that vacancies would be filled.
    He said that such vacancies are not unusual in any district, especially since teachers file their resignations at the end of summer. His staff said that 95 percent of classes were now filled by permanent and certified teachers, leaving about 50 vacancies at last count.
    “It is not uncommon for schools to have vacancies,” Rouhanifard said yesterday. “This is not a new phenomenon. They are alleging it is driven by layoffs, but these are driven by late notifications and retirements over the summer.”
    With all due respect, how in the world would Rouhanifard ever know what's "common" in a school, system? He's never run a district -- he's never even run a school. He was a mid-level bureaucrat in the NYCDOE and a slightly higher bureaucrat in Newark. He had a total of six years of experience in education before taking over arguably the most difficult school leadership position in New Jersey, with no degrees in education and no standard certification in school leadership.

    Further, it's not like understaffing isn't part of a pattern in state-run districts. Take Paterson:
    With classes about to start, city school officials are scrambling to fill scores of vacant teaching positions, many of them for special education and students who are learning English. 
    As of last Wednesday, the district had 131 openings at its schools, most of them teaching jobs, said deputy superintendent Eileen Shafer. That included 38 special education jobs, 29 for English Language Learner classes, seven for math and six for science. 
    The 131 openings also included school nurses and child study team members, officials said. The district has more than 50 schools. 
    By Friday, nine of those positions had been filled, officials said. “We had a job fair last week and had many good applicants so we are already down to 122,” said district spokeswoman Terry Corallo in a statement issued on Friday. 
    Paterson Public Schools routinely has some teaching vacancies at the start of the classes, but officials acknowledged that the number of open spots this year is particularly high.
    Golly, I wonder why...
    District administration officials did not respond when asked why there were so many vacancies this year. One school board member said he heard there had been a large number of teacher resignations after the new contract was signed. 
    Peter Tirri, president of the teachers’ union, acknowledged that some educators may have left the district because they were unhappy about the contract. Tirri also said the district terminated 47 teachers who had not yet gotten tenure. At least eight of the people who were terminated taught special education and nine were math or science instructors, he said. 
    “Most of those were brand new teachers,” Tirri said, adding that he thought the district would have been better off providing those instructors with more training instead of terminating them. “A lot of those people should have been kept on.”
    Yes, but that wouldn't have been "disruptive," which is so great for both corporations and children...

    The Paterson contract, which was barely ratified by the rank-and-file, is for all intents and purposes a merit pay contract. Looks like veterans got out while the getting was good, and now the district is understaffed. And you have to wonder about the quality of the potential candidates at this late date in the year.

    Finally, what's happening out in the fourth state-run district, Jersey City?
    The Jersey City Board of Education celebrated the start of the new school year with a festival at Liberty State Park on Saturday, but with its teachers locked in a contract dispute with the board, the union members were missing from the upbeat fair.

    More than 2,500 students and parents attended the event on the green lawns of Liberty State Park. In addition to music, the festival included food and activities for students.

    Each of the district's 40 schools had a table at the festival to offer parents and students vital information about their classes, school personnel and other services that might be available.

    The second annual event was an opportunity for the entire school community "to get together and have fun," said Superintendent Marcia Lyles. "We want to celebrate our schools and our families and our staff ... We're happy to be back in school, and looking forward to a great year and we figured we'd kick it off with a festival."

    But while school principals, vice principals and other administrators were there to talk to students and parents, most of the 3,000 teachers in the district boycotted the event.

    "There is a lack of responsibility and professionalism and people are treated like dirt by many principals," Ron Greco, president of the Jersey City Education Association, told The Jersey Journal last week. "A lot of these people are political hacks and they are not up to par — really incompetent people."

    Greco said the reasons union members planned to boycott the event included a retaliatory atmosphere in the schools and the crumbling conditions of the buildings.

    With negotiations on a new union contract stalled, the board of education decided last month to ask the state Public Employment Relations Commission to provide a mediator to help move talks forward.

    About the missing teachers on Saturday, Lyles said, "We miss them."
    Yes, you miss them when you need to put on a happy face to the community. But when it comes to settling a contract... not so much.

    Even the reformy mayor, Steve Fulop, has sided with the teachers on this one, but the district won't settle. To be fair, the board has more say over this negotiation than in other state-run districts -- but it's clear their intransigence is aided and abetted by Christie. It's also worth noting that Lyles had a problem with the security of student data in Jersey City earlier this year.

    State control didn't start with Chris Christie, and there were plenty of administrative problems in New Jersey urban districts long before he came to power. But there's little doubt things have degenerated under his failed leadership of our city school districts.

    Transportation, staffing, employee morale -- these are among the primary concerns of a school district leader. You simply can't run a school system unless you address these basic issues, and you can't expect lightly qualified and lightly experienced superintendents -- like Anderson and Rouhanifard -- to know how to address the complexities of providing these needs when they both seem hellbent on deconstructing their districts in favor of a "portfolio" model of charter school expansion.

    Jersey City's Lyles and Paterson's Donnie Evans are another matter. I would never say either was inexperienced: Evans has a very solid resume, and as I've said before, Lyles, even though she is a Broadie and served in Joel Klein's NYCDOE, has been a career educator and knows first-hand how schools are run. That said: if experience is almost always a prerequisite for success, it is never a guarantee.

    It's certain that all of these jobs come with the proviso that the superintendent must adhere to the Christie school program: slashed budgets, merit pay, gutting tenure, test-based evaluations, and charter school proliferation. Even if these superintendents are capable and working in good faith, they are constrained by Christie's ideologies.

    There is ultimately only one man responsible for the failures of governance in New Jersey's state-run school districts: Chris Christie. Whatever problems may arise from returning Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, and Camden to local control, they couldn't possibly be worse than continuing to suffer under Christie's incompetence.

    It's not my fault! It's NEVER my fault!

    ADDING: Whenever we speak of state control, we must always remember this:

    In New Jersey, local control is reserved for white, suburban districts. I know it makes some of you uncomfortable to hear this.

    Too damn bad.


    jmc said...

    What's probably most frightening about this porcine punchinello is that he's so easily getting away with all of this bullshit and backslap, the traditional political route of the vacuous candidate who really has nothing to offer the citizenry except good feelings and lots of chuckles.

    By such techniques does the Beast hide its true nature, which is under the surface, that is, covertly, Malevolent. He appears to love the individual, but he hates the people and does everything he can to reduce their incomes and cut down whatever government services have been available to them. He nibbles away at their unions until such time as he can get into position to destroy them, so as to serve his masters, the 1%, whose authority he loves more than anything else because they can raise him to the heights to which he aspires and at which he rightfully belongs, on the level with kings.

    As far as the citizens are concerned, he is the most dangerous candidate since Huey Long.

    jim crawford

    Edward Torres said...

    Gov Christie was an attorney stationed in Camden for the US Attorney Generals Office for over 5 years. “In a scathing letter,” reads a 2006 Times story, “Christopher J. Christie, the United States attorney for New Jersey, wrote that his office would be unable to bring charges against Mr. Norcross because lawyers for the state attorney general had mishandled their investigation before turning it over to his office in 2004.” Camden sue Gov Christie for stopping the selection process for the office of Superintendent. You had selected well qualified people. Gov Christie came with his vision to save Camden Children the day after the Camden Community meet the 3 Final Candidates for Superintendent. He placed an unqualified Superintendent undermining any gain the School Board was making. The State stole 430 million dollars from your Abbott vs Burke settlement and your doing nothing but suing only about a Charter school. You got to step it up Camden and put Gov Christie out permanently. He will never be President if you sue him now