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

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Revenge Against Those Who Question "Reform"

Back in November - before Chris Christie declared that poor black people in Camden weren't capable of running their schools like rich white people in the 'burbs - the Camden school board actually wielded a little power. And last year enough members of the board banded together to exercise that power and stop South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross from bringing the national charter chain KIPP into Camden to establish a quasi-charter where a new public school was supposed to be:
George E. Norcross III does not lose often. 
Nor does he lose easily: When Camden’s school board recently rebuffed a Norcross-backed bid to bring a Hope Act school to the city, the de facto leader of South Jersey Democrats quickly renewed the push for his goal.
Norcross declined to comment on specifics of the vote or his plans to revive the proposal, though he did express frustration and disappointment at the 4-4 vote he thought he would win. 
With the Urban Hope Act, powerful figures in local and state government advanced Norcross’ vision for a five-school complex near Cooper and the new medical school. The venture would be operated through an alliance of charitable foundations for Cooper and the Norcross family, and by KIPP, a national charter school operator. 
But the BOE’s tally was 4-4, with one abstention, meaning the proposal failed. The other three proposals were spurned unanimously, with an abstention on each.   
The [Camden Mayor] Redd administration, which did not comment for this story, had embarrassingly miscounted.   
Voting against the Cooper/Norcross/KIPP bid were Sara Davis, Sean Brown, Kathryn Ribay and Brian Turner. [emphasis mine]
Well, Norcross didn't take this lying down, and used his muscle to force another vote in November of 2012. What did the four who initially rejected the Cooper/Norcross/KIPP bid decide to do this time?
Some board members who initially rejected KIPP complained that the project was too large, with five schools totaling 2,800 students. The plan the board approved Wednesday was unchanged in size.
Sara Davis was the only member to again vote against KIPP.
Ray Lamboy abstained and Brian Turner was absent. The rest of the board agreed to send the proposal for review by state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.
The vote came after the resolution supporting the KIPP proposal was amended to include a clause that approval was conditional upon a contract between the board and the KIPP group. The amendment was the clincher for board member Kathryn Ribay, who had rejected the initial proposal.
"People can say things," Ribay said. "Things should be in writing."
During the almost three-hour closed meeting, representatives of KIPP and the Cooper Foundation went in to explain their proposal. The dialogue consisted of "a lot of explaining and clarifying . . . and some 'We'll have to get back to you,' " board member Sean Brown said.
Brown, who earlier voted against the KIPP proposal, said he switched because he believed the state would never build the long-promised Lanning Square public school. The state "will do whatever they can so it doesn't happen," he said. "And they have the power." [emphasis mine]
So Davis was consistent and voted no, Turner was conveniently absent, and Lamboy abstained again. But Ribay and Brown changed their votes. I'm sure they were rewarded for this, right?
As the Camden Board of Education prepares to transition into its new advisory role, it will also be introducing some new faces.
Mayor Dana L. Redd appointed two new members Monday and reappointed President Kathryn Blackshear to the nine-member board.
No applications were taken. Redd reached out to those she thought would be best for the board: Dorothy Burley, former city clerk, and Jennifer Martinez, owner of JEM Foods, a food-distribution company in Camden.
In a Type 1 school district, board members are appointed, not elected. Redd makes all board appointments.
This time around, she decided not to appoint two of the first board members she appointed three years ago, Sean Brown and Ray Lamboy. Brown and Lamboy were outspoken critics of the district administration and the state Board of Education.
Lamboy abstained from voting in all Renaissance school-related votes, citing what he said was a lack of analysis of the schools’ long-term impact.
Both were skeptical about the state takeover.
After the news of the takeover, Brown said: “The vision for the city is, fire all the cops and let the county do it; eliminate the school board and let the state do it; don't govern, let a political boss do it.”
Burley and Martinez will replace Brown and Lamboy.
“I appointed these qualified individuals because I believe they are ready and willing to work in partnership with the state Department of Education and my administration to do whatever it takes to produce better educational outcomes for our children,” Redd said in a statement. “Working together with students, parents, teachers, and administrators, I believe we can turn our school district around for the better.”
Translation: there's no room for dissension in Camden. Split votes and contrasting opinions may be fine for the 'burbs, but everyone had better be on the same page in Camden - or else.
A vacancy remains for the seat left open when Kathryn Ribay resigned the day the takeover was announced.
Saw the writing on the wall, didn't you?
Brown said in an interview that he had no interest in serving on a board whose role had been downgraded to advisory. Lamboy said he had wanted to continue to serve on the board.
I never had the opportunity” to talk with the mayor, he said of his interest in being reappointed. “Someone [from the mayor’s office] left me a voice mail this morning saying that I wasn’t going to be reappointed.
Lamboy said he was surprised and disappointed at the mayor’s decision.
“I thought we had accomplished a lot,” Lamboy said, citing a completed strategic plan and the national search for a new superintendent, which are both now moot since Gov. Christie’s takeover announcement last month. [emphasis mine]
See, the last thing anyone needs to do in Camden is stick his or her nose into a search for a superintendent. Just like in Jersey City, the appointment of the superintendent will be at the discretion of Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and Governor Christie; the last thing they want is a bunch of locals who insist on having a say and mucking up their plans.

And they certainly don't wanted an advisory board in open revolt like the one in Newark.

So anybody in Camden who isn't on board with the Norcross-KIPP-Christie-Cerf-Broad Foundation plan is given his walking papers. Even abstaining on a vote is considered a sign of disloyalty to the cult of KIPP and the South Jersey political machine.

Rest assured, Sara Davis: your days are numbered. But maybe you can take some cold comfort in the fact that you're not alone: all across the country, school boards are being taken over by the forces of reforminess.  Sometimes they try to buy the race; in Camden, that's not necessary because the mayor controls all the school board appointments. But the outcome remains the same: those who voice even the slightest doubts about the privatization agenda are to be purged.

Resistance is futile... 

1 comment:

Mrs. King's music students said...

I don't think there is any question that our schools can be better. The real issue - aside from the political scramble to profit from the redevelopment of the riverfront- is the absence of a plan for making the schools better. Also, the absence of an incorruptible leader to negotiate authentic school improvements. Right now, I could not identify a gatekeeper in Camden if my life depended on it. Above ground or underground. In my opinion, the RACs are doing a creditable job of identifying/clarifying the issues. After that, the current trend is to assign blame and move on, or point to others who are even worse and move on.