But Goal of Local Control for Newark Schools Remains
During oral argument before the Appellate Court on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Michael Walters informed the panel of three judges that the state would transfer control of fiscal management to Newark’s Advisory School Board.
The court hearing was the final step in consolidated appeals, filed by private attorney Clifford G. (Greg) Stewart on behalf of the Newark Advisory Board, and by the Education Law Center on behalf of a coalition of community members, contending that Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf violated State law by failing to withdraw from the areas of governance, personnel and fiscal management after the Newark school district, in July 2011, received high marks on a required three-year comprehensive review.
The law at issue, adopted in 2007, created the Quality Single Accountability Continuum, or “QSAC.” In addition to establishing a statewide district accountability system, the law was designed to create a pathway for the three state-operated districts to regain local control by setting clear standards in five separate functional areas – governance, fiscal management, personnel, operations, and curriculum and instruction.
The QSAC law was used in 2007 by then Commissioner Lucille Davy and the State Board of Education to return governance and fiscal management to the control of the Jersey City school district and operations to the control of the Newark school district, which has been under State control for 18 years. Commissioner Cerf’s refusal to follow the statutory guidelines in 2011, after Newark achieved the required benchmarks in three additional areas, led to the filing of the lawsuit.
Mr. Stewart, an ELC board member and life-long Newark resident, who argued the case before the appellate panel, said the State’s decision to return control of fiscal management had not been shared with the Advisory Board or the community before the court hearing.
“They gave us no indication beforehand that they intended to do this,” Mr. Stewart said. “It’s an indicator that they recognize they violated the statute.”
“The return of fiscal management to the district is long overdue. But the district also achieved the necessary benchmarks in personnel and governance, so those areas must be returned as well. We hope the appellate court will recognize that,” Mr. Stewart added. “The Newark community has waited long enough for local oversight of their schools, as enjoyed by almost every other district in the state.”
It should be noted that until governance is returned, State District Superintendent Cami Anderson, appointed by Commissioner Cerf, retains the authority to veto any decisions of the Newark Advisory Board, even in those areas in which local control has been returned. The Advisory Board will not have the ability to hire and fire a district superintendent until the Department of Education grants them governance.
The Commissioner’s decision to return local control of fiscal management to the district comes at a time when State Superintendent Anderson’s FY14 district budget shows a $57 million deficit.
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