The State-operated Newark school district is facing a projected $57 million budget shortfall for the 2013-14 school year, according to information presented to the district’s Advisory School Board by State Superintendent Cami Anderson on March 28.
Given the size of the budget deficit, and the lack of detail from State Superintendent Anderson on how to address it, the Newark Advisory Board took the unprecedented action of unanimously voting to reject the State’s proposed budget for the district.
Under State control for the last 17 years, the Newark public schools are directly operated by NJ Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, through Ms. Anderson. State Superintendent Anderson was appointed by Mr. Cerf in 2011.
In a PowerPoint presentation to the Advisory Board, the State Superintendent indicates that $33.6 million, or almost 60% of the shortfall, “is driven by a projected increase of approximately 2200 students in charter schools.” The amount of Newark’s budget dedicated to tuition payments to charter schools will rise from $148 million to $181 million in 2013-14.
Since 2010, when Governor Chris Christie took office and began aggressively expanding charter schools, enrollment in Newark charters has increased from 5,241 students to a projected 9,514, or an increase of 45%. The district will serve a projected 35,471 students in 2013-14. Newark charters serve far fewer English language learners, students with disabilities and other special needs students than district schools.
Various expenditures related to new assessments, teacher evaluations and curriculum contribute another $4.6 million to the projected budget gap.
State Superintendent Anderson’s plans for closing the budget gap are vague, which led the Advisory Board to reject the proposal. Ms. Anderson proposes cutting $18.4 million directly from the budgets of district schools, which will cause reductions in essential programs, staff and services for Newark schoolchildren.
The State Superintendent is also calling for $7.2 million in cost reductions through “Portfolio changes that lead to more efficient school structures,” without providing detail or explaining if the State intends to close more district schools. Another $7.1 reduction is labeled as a “Reduction of non-recurring expenditures,” again without detail or explanation.
“The State proposed budget for the Newark school district is a disaster for students,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “It is incumbent upon Commissioner Cerf, as the state official responsible for the operation of Newark schools, to fully explain the reasons for this budget gap, and what the State will do to ensure adequate resources for all Newark students, and not just those in selective charter schools.”
ELC is also calling for Commissioner Cerf to issue a temporary moratorium on opening new charters or expanding existing charters until the State can provide assurances that Newark’s budget has been stabilized, and its fiscal crisis has been averted.
“The growth of charters, without investment in district schools, is unsustainable,” Mr. Sciarra said. “Newark is fast descending into a two-tiered school system, with selective, well resourced charters alongside district schools serving children with the most challenging, and costly, educational needs.”
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