October 15, 2013
NJ Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf has failed to file annual reports for the last three years with the Legislature’s oversight committee on State operation of the Newark, Paterson and Jersey City public schools.
The annual reports are mandated by the law allowing State takeover of school districts when the Commissioner, in his discretion, determines a district is not meeting NJ Department of Education monitoring standards. The reports must be filed with the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools. The Commissioner is required to detail the State’s “progress” in improving the district and the “prospects” for the State to return the district to local control.
By letter dated September 19, 2013, Education Law Center placed NJ Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman on notice of the Commissioner’s failure to file the reports for three consecutive years, and requested that the Attorney General promptly ensure compliance.
ELC has recently been advised by the Attorney General’s office that Commissioner Cerf will address the reporting requirement at some point in the near future.
Three of New Jersey’s largest school districts have long been under State operation: Newark for 18 years, Paterson for 23 years, and Jersey City for 21 years. In June 2013, the Commissioner formally assumed control of the Camden district. All four districts serve very high concentrations of low-income children, English language learners, and students with disabilities. All of the districts are almost exclusively African American and Latino.
“The annual reports to the Joint Committee are the only requirement for the Commissioner to publicly disclose what progress the State is making in Newark, Paterson and Jersey City, and when these communities can expect to regain control over the education of their children,” said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director.
Under law, the Commissioner monitors his own performance in educating children in these communities. As a result, local taxpayers, parents and students are without any direct mechanism to hold Governor Chris Christie and Commissioner Cerf accountable to meet the legislative goals of State takeover, which are to make necessary improvements in the school district and restore local control as quickly as possible.
“There is a potential conflict of interest in having the Commissioner operate the public schools in Newark, Paterson and Jersey City, and now Camden, and at the same time evaluate his own performance. This means that the annual progress reports and aggressive legislative oversight are essential, and we will continue to press for both,” Mr. Sciarra added.
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