Education Law Center has learned that Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf has directed Essex County Executive Superintendent Lawrence Feinsod to conduct a second “full” review, in less than a year, of the Newark school district’s performance under the State’s monitoring program, known as the Quality Single Accountability System (QSAC).
Mr. Cerf’s decision to conduct the review comes just eight months after Newark completed a comprehensive QSAC review, receiving exemplary scores – above 80 – in four of the five areas of district performance: fiscal, operations, personnel and governance. In the single area the district scored below 80 – curriculum and instruction – Mr. Cerf directed Newark to complete an improvement plan, as required by the QSAC law. When districts score above 80, they are considered high-performing in that area, and no improvement plan is required.
ELC has received confirmation of the second review from the Attorney General’s office.
Mr. Cerf decided to revisit Newark’s performance at the same time as a lawsuit is pending before the NJ Appellate Court challenging his refusal to withdraw from the four areas in which the district scored over 80 in July 2011. The legal challenge includes Mr. Cerf’s refusal to begin restoring authority over the district to the Newark School Board, which now functions in an advisory capacity. The Newark Advisory Board, along with the Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools, filed the appeal, arguing that the QSAC law requires the State to return the district to local control when it is determined to be high performing.
The Attorney General’s reply to the appeal was scheduled to be filed in February. However, the Attorney General requested, and received, two postponements of the deadline to respond, and in early May filed a third request to extend the date for filing a response until June 10, 2012. In March, as the Attorney General sought to delay the Appellate Court proceedings, ELC first learned that Mr. Cerf had directed Mr. Feinsod to conduct another review of the performance and scoring of the Newark district.
“The QSAC law requires the State to conduct a full review of district performance every three years. It is unusual for the Commissioner to revisit district performance in less than a year, especially where a district has received exemplary scores, as Newark did in July 2011,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director.
If Mr. Cerf issues new scores that bring Newark’s performance below 80, the Attorney General could attempt to argue in court that the State should continue to retain control over the district on the basis of the latest scores. The Newark district has been under state control for 17 years.
In June 2011, Mr. Cerf appointed Cami Anderson as State District Superintendent of Newark. Any changes in Newark’s QSAC scores will reflect the district’s performance during Ms. Anderson’s tenure.
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