In late November, there was an important development in the ongoing legal effort to restore local control to the Newark Public Schools. An Appellate Court rejected a motion by Commissioner Chris Cerf to dismiss the appeal filed by the Newark Advisory Board and parents seeking to return governance of the district to the elected school board.
In this appeal, filed in 2011, the Advisory Board and community members contend the Commissioner violated the State “takeover” law by failing to withdraw from governance and several other areas after the district, in July 2011, received high marks on the required three-year State monitoring review.
The “takeover” statute directs the Commissioner to restore local authority in any of the five areas subject to State QSAC monitoring if the district scores above 80 and has adequate programs and policies in place to sustain progress. The Quality Single Accountability Continuum, or QSAC, is the State system of monitoring the performance of all school districts. In July 2011, Commissioner Cerf rated Newark above 80 in four of the five areas monitored: governance, fiscal management, operations and personnel.
Local control over operations was restored during an earlier state review in 2007, but despite the qualifying scores in 2011, Commissioner Cerf refused to restore district authority in any of remaining areas. The Newark Advisory Board and parent groups filed a legal challenge to that decision. However, before the Attorney General had to respond to the Board’s arguments on the appeal, the Commissioner ordered another “interim” review of the district in the spring of 2012. This review resulted in a “rescoring” of the district by Commissioner Cerf with sharply lower QSAC scores. The State argued that the newer scores made the earlier challenge to the Commissioner’s decision to continue the state takeover “moot” and asked that it be dismissed.
However, the Appellate Court denied the State’s motion and ordered the Attorney General to address the substance of the claims raised in the challenge. This means the State must provide legal justification for Commissioner Cerf’s decision not to restore partial local authority in response to the 2011 scores.
The Commissioner’s sudden decision to conduct an interim review in 2012 and issue lower scores has proved problematic. The Commissioner has tried to avoid explaining how the district’s scores fell so sharply during the first year of Superintendent Cami Anderson’s tenure. Superintendent Anderson was hired in June 2011, and hailed by Governor Christie “as someone who knows how to execute a plan, and that’s what is needed here in Newark.”
The Attorney General has asked for an extension until January to file a formal response to the appeal.
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