Rice Outraged Over State’s Refusal To Return Newark Schools To Local Control

Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-Essex)

Says Failure to Follow Intent of QSAC Process Could Set Up Dangerous Precedent for Future Districts

NEWARK – Senator Ronald L. Rice said today that he’s outraged by a report in the Star Ledger over the weekend regarding a letter from Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf to Newark Public Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson, in which the acting commissioner dismissed the progress that the Newark Board of Education has made in addressing objective benchmarks to restore local control of the Newark public school system.

“As the sponsor of the QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum) legislation, I am appalled that Acting Commissioner Cerf and Governor Christie have decided to circumvent the intent of the law and have refused to follow the process to return Newark’s schools to local control,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “The QSAC review process was always intended to ensure that the State takeover of any local school district was fair, objective and temporary. However, it’s become apparent that the Christie administration is willing to dismiss objective data in order to pursue some other agenda not laid out in the QSAC law.”

In his letter, Acting Commissioner Cerf wrote that, despite the fact that Newark scored above 80 percent in four of five categories of review – a level which could have triggered at least partial return of the school district to a Board of Education elected by Newark voters – the State would not relinquish control. The acting education commissioner said that if the district can repeat its high marks in the next State review in three years, the State would consider restoring authority to a locally-elected school board – an assertion that Senator Rice said is nowhere in the QSAC law.

“If Acting Commissioner Cerf and Governor Christie want a higher threshold for review, they should propose legislation through their Republican partners in the Legislature,” said Senator Rice. “However, to arbitrarily and capriciously impose higher standards on Newark, which has fulfilled its responsibilities under QSAC to gain at least a measure of local control, is simply wrong and unfair. There’s no objective decision-making going on here – the future of Newark public schools is apparently left to the whims of the Commissioner of Education.”

Senator Rice said that when it was first adopted five years ago, the QSAC process was intended to eliminate any confusion and ambiguity over when and how the State’s three take-over districts – Jersey City, Paterson and Newark – could be returned to local control. Since its adoption, Jersey City has been restored to local authority, but Paterson and Newark remain under State control. Senator Rice said that the fact that both districts are predominantly minority districts is troubling.

“The message this sends is that the parents in Newark and Paterson are incapable of making decisions about the education their kids receive, no matter what the numbers might say,” said Senator Rice. “Not to respect the legislative intent of QSAC is wrong and potentially discriminatory, and could subject the State to a legal challenge. It also sets a very dangerous precedent for any future school districts which fall under QSAC evaluation, be they urban, rural or suburban.”

Senator Rice said that if deficiencies still exist in Newark, the process is set up in such a way that the State would transition the district to local control, and work with the district to correct deficiencies. The Newark lawmaker also said that failure to follow the defined process to return local control amounts to arbitrary disenfranchisement of Newark’s voting population.

“Acting Commissioner Cerf doesn’t get to arbitrarily impose a higher threshold of review on districts evaluated through the QSAC process,” said Senator Rice. “The whole idea of QSAC was to set an objective roadmap to local control for takeover districts, in order to assure voters that once the district met the benchmarks, they would once again have a voice in their local school system. Failure to recognize and act on Newark’s progress in four of the five review areas is tantamount to disenfranchisement, based on nothing but the Administration’s whims, in order to pursue some other underlying educational agenda.”

Senator Rice, who also serves as co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, said he would seek to hold hearings on the Administration’s arbitrary and subjective imposition of the QSAC law.