Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to NJ Department of Education: “A complete copy of the award notice and full terms and conditions of the grant from Mark Zuckerberg’s Start-Up Education Foundation $100 million grant for Newark school education.”
Given the size and importance of Mark Zuckerberg’s grant and the lack of information about it, I filed the request on September 27, 2010. The contents of this grant is public information. It should form a part of the needed school reform dialogue within Newark and the NJ Education Department. It should also help us understand what Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation expects and requires.
On October 6 I received the below response:
Mr. Orr, Please see the attached Government Records Receipt indicating that your request is denied. The Department of Education does not have the requested records. – Mary L. Gentry, New Jersey Department Education
As Acting Commissioner of Education, Rochelle Hendricks testified before a joint legislative committee on Tuesday, “The state’s school takeover statute – the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) – does not authorize gubernatorial or mayoral participation in efforts to reform a district under state control. That responsibility rests squarely on the commissioner of education’s shoulders.” As Newark school’s are under her control, her responsibilities include being informed about this grant, assuring the grant’s goals and tasks do not run counter to the QSAC law, and assuring monies spent are in accordance with state requirements.
The mystery deepens. It appears the Education Department may be negligent in its responsibilities. It is routine for a department to require receipt of outside grants for activities that fall under its purview. Ultimately such activities need state approval. Is it possible only Mayor Booker has the grant and has refused to share it? But if so, why would the governor have spoken so frequently about this award without he or members of the Executive staff having a copy of it? Is it possible that the governor’s office has a copy, but has not shared it with the Education Department? It seems unprofessional and unlikely that there would be such hullabaloo about a $100 million grant with nothing in writing – not even a short award notice.
In discussing the needed dialogue on reform, Mayor Booker said, “Let’s trust Newarkers.” To help achieve that trust, he or the governor should release the contents of the award to the public and to the Education Department – willingly, rather than having to do so under another OPRA request.