Brawling in Newark headlines New Jersey school board elections
By Daniel Anderson
New Jersey school districts will hold their first round of 2014 school board elections on April 23, 2014. Three of the largest school districts in New Jersey are holding elections for a total of nine seats. In Passaic Public Schools, three of the four candidates running in the at-large race are incumbents attempting to retain their positions. The election in Edison Township Public Schools is significantly more competitive and features six newcomers challenging incumbents Jerry Shi and Frank Heelan for the three seats. Edison Township Board President Gene I. Maeroff decided not to run for re-election, thereby leaving his seat vacant and ensuring that at least one of the challengers will join the board.
Spotlight: Newark Public Schools
The school board for Newark Public Schools has served in an advisory capacity since the state government took over administration of New Jersey's largest school district in 1995. However, recent board elections have still featured both competitive races and endorsements from prominent politicians such as former Newark mayor and current United States Senator Cory Booker.
Superintendent Cami Anderson, Governor Chris Christie's appointee, proposed a systematic overhaul of the school district in 2013 titled "One Newark." The reform plan includes school closures, teacher layoffs, Teach for America hirings and changes to the district's enrollment system for both traditional and charter schools. "One Newark" has garnered significant criticism from a variety of sources. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten sent a letter to Governor Christie criticizing an element of the plan that would use teacher performance evaluations instead of seniority in deciding which teachers to layoff. At a rally in the state capital of Trenton, Newark mayoral candidate and City Councilman Ras Baraka stated, "We have the right to govern our own lives. We have the right to govern our own school system. We have a right to keep our school buildings open. [...] No one wants this One Newark plan, and no one wants Cami Anderson. One of the first steps that we make sure happens is that she gets the first ticket on the first train out of town. We've had enough."
Baraka has endorsed incumbents Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson and Philip C. Seelinger, Jr. and newcomer Reginald Bledsoe as his "Children First" slate for the three at-large seats on the Newark Advisory Board. From 2011 to 2013, Baraka's "Children First" slates won seven of the nine seats on the board. Advisory Board Chairperson Baskerville-Richardson and fellow members of the "Children First" governing majority on the board have advocated for local control of Newark Public Schools and have opposed Superintendent Anderson's "One Newark" plan.
Note: An (i) next to a candidate's name indicates incumbent status.
- The New York Times, "Judge Orders a State Takeover Of the Newark School District," April 14, 1995
- The Star-Ledger, "Newark school board election creates entangled alliances," April 15, 2012
- The Washington Post, "Gov. Christie’s new crisis: Protests grow over state control of Newark schools," February 27, 2014
- Politicker NJ, "Crowd calls for Cami Anderson's removal as Newark school super at Statehouse rally," March 27, 2014
- Politicker NJ, "Baraka's School Board Slate Set," March 6, 2014
- The Star-Ledger, "The real lessons in Newark's school board election," April 24, 2012
- WBGO 88.3, "Newark Schools "Children First" Ticket Victorious in Advisory Board Election," April 17, 2013
- The Star-Ledger, "Newark's fight against school reorganizaton plan moves to Trenton today with noon rally," March 27, 2014