Tag Archive: Chris Cerf

Jersey City Mayor’s Race: What Makes a Democrat a Democrat?

Promoted back up top, because this was posted late-late last night. – Rosi

It’s difficult to imagine a Republican getting elected as the mayor of Jersey City*, the largest city in true blue Hudson County. So what are conservatives to do when they want to make inroads in the Democratic stronghold? (You know, other than call Union City Mayor and Chris Christie Superfan Brian Stack.) They find a Democrat who can be wooed.

At least that’s what seems to be happening in Hudson County, where current councilman and long-time mayoral hopeful Steven Fulop is attempting to unseat incumbent Jerramiah Healy. And despite having run and served as a Democrat throughout his career in Jersey City, Fulop is receiving funding and political support from his connections among Monmouth County Republicans. This story first emerged in December when it was revealed that a former Executive Director of the NJ Republican State Party and counsel to the Romney campaign  – Brian Nelson – had been soliciting contributions for a Fulop fundraiser. Then, this week, Monmouth County Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon pushed out a press blast specifically targeting Jersey City’s use of red light cameras, despite the fact that such cameras are in use throughout the state and in municipalities much closer to O’Scanlon’s than Jersey City.

All of this comes months after a leaked email from Fulop revealed that he was meeting secretly with Christie’s Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf and Fulop’s hand-picked Board of Education members. Cerf, who is also a registered Democrat, is at the forefront of the Republican agenda of privatizing public schools and union busting. True, Democrats aren’t generally known for their hostility toward organized labor and wanting to reduce children and teachers to test scores; but that doesn’t seem to phase folks like Cerf, or apparently Fulop.

Jerramiah Healy’s imperfections as a mayor and candidate are not a secret, but his accomplishments don’t get nearly enough attention. And his challenger’s associations dash the notion that Fulop is somehow a more pure or forthright alternative. Why would Republicans from another county want to see him in office, enough to help with both their money and political cover? Fulop has long shouldered accusations of careerism, and getting help from those who seek to undo the work of the Democratic party doesn’t help him shake that cloud.

(* Jersey City’s last Republican mayor was Bret Schundler – Christie’s first Education Commissioner and Race to the Top blunder scape goat – in 1992. He had been the city’s first Republican mayor since 1917.)

Quote of the Day: Newark-Facebook Edition

This is one of those times when less is more. Here’s the first sentence of a press release sent out today by the NJ chapter of the ACLU:

A Superior Court judge has ordered the City of Newark to release emails that were exchanged about the $100 million pledge that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made to Newark schools in September 2010.

It’s an embarrassing ruling for the Booker administration, which first claimed such emails didn’t even exist, then admitted in a Jauary court hearing that they did, in fact, exist, but weren’t subject to release since they were personal and not official in nature. In fact, that’s been the core excuse for all of the secrecy surrounding the Newark-Facebook-Oprah-Christie-Cerf-Anderson-stravaganza – that, since, Booker’s role in securing the grant money was not related to his official capacity as mayor, the emails were not subject to public scrutiny. That doesn’t come close to passing the sniff test, however, and Judge Rachel N. Davidson said so:

Judge Davidson rejected all those arguments, noting for instance that a press release on the City of Newark’s own website touts Booker’s involvement in the donation as mayor and that all of the emails in dispute are maintained by Booker’s executive assistant in Newark City Hall. The judge also noted that Booker’s role as mayor is repeated in statements about the donation that are mentioned on his campaign website, as well as in some of the emails that are being sought… The judge also said it is not clear if executive privilege applies to mayors at all, but assuming that it does, “it does not apply here.”

No deadline has been set for the release of the 36 emails in question. Read the full press release here.

It’s been a particularly bad few days for the NJDOE – last Friday an administrative law judge ruled that under Christie and Cerf, the NJ DOE has been violating the constitutional rights of students by failing to repair crumbling school buildings in a timely and legally proper way – impeding their right to a “thorough and efficient” education as required by law.  

Who Stands For New Jersey’s Students?

Yesterday, we had an interesting juxtaposition of views on child advocacy here in the Garden State. On the one hand:

Dear Secretary Duncan,

We are writing to express our grave concerns about the negative impact of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver on New Jersey’s most vulnerable children.

We understand that the waivers were an effort to return more control to the states to improve educational opportunities and outcomes. Unfortunately, here in New Jersey, it is quite clear that the NCLB waiver is being used to apply measures that are more damaging than NCLB would have been, particularly to low-income Black and Latino children.

Below, we detail our most pressing concerns with the program the State is implementing under the waiver: 1) introduction of a punitive accountability system that disproportionately impacts school districts populated by low-income children of color while rewarding selective schools and those populated by wealthier, majority white students; and 2) a process of State intervention that excludes low-income communities of color from substantive input in the planning or implementation of the proposed interventions.

Click through and read who signed this: parent groups, children’s advocates, school board members, civil rights groups, teachers unions, scholars, labor, politicians… it reads like a who’s who of NJ education policy.

The two problems the letter outlines can be laid directly at the feet of NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. He implemented the system by which schools can be classified as “Priority,” “Focus,” or “Reward” schools, a system that does nothing to acknowledge the very real differences in student demographics between these schools:

Notes On the Cerf Hearings

UPDATE: Senate Judiciary Committee confirms Cerf Education Commissioner by unanimous vote after more than 4 hours of testimony, including questions about the ethics behind some of the decisions in Cerf’s professional past.- Rosi

I was tweeting on the hearing, and then Twitter died. How did I break it?

So here are my notes:

– 11:30 Lesniak makes point that you can’t have fair evaluation system when politics pervades schools. Cerf says alternative is no evaluation system at all. That’s so silly: you can have a good evaluation system if teachers are driving it like other professionals.

– 11:34 School funding formula – SFRA. Cerf believes funding in NJ is “seriously amiss.” Sarlo wonders why Christie Administration didn’t file an “adequacy report” and instead filed a different report that didn’t allow Legislature to act to revamp SFRA.

The Chris Cerf Story (pre-Jersey)

Cross-posted at Jersey Jazzman

In January of 2011, I published a four-part series on ACTING Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s career prior to coming to New Jersey. It may well be the most comprehensive look at the man available.

Given that his long-awaited confirmation hearing is this Thursday, I’m posting the links to the story again here. You’ll find links to all of the primary sources I used within the posts.

The Chris Cerf Story – Part I

Cerf’s tenure at Edison Schools and the sweetheart deal he made to take the company private using funds from the Florida teachers pension.

The Chris Cerf Story – Part II

Cerf’s years working under Joel Klein and Rupert Murdoch at the NYC Department of Education, including a heavily redacted ethics report into his conflict-of-interest violation.

The Chris Cerf Story – Part III

Cerf champions charter schools, and leads a “Truth Squad” that monitors Klein’s and Bloomberg’s critics.

The Chris Cerf Story – Summary

Chris Cerf’s career has been all about the confluence of private and public interests in education.

More to come soon about the tenure of Chris Cerf in New Jersey.

NJ Charters: A Growing Embarrassment

Something is very wrong with charter schools in New Jersey.

This week, the citizens and school boards of Cherry Hill and Voorhees won a major battle against a proposed charter school that neither community wanted nor needed. Blue Jersey has previously detailed the story of Regis Academy’s founder, Pastor Amor Khan, an anti-marriage equity crusader and political ally of Chris Christie.

Khan admitted – and his initial application clearly showed – that he needed the charter funds that would come from local taxpayers to pay off the mortgage on the property he was attempting to buy. The property would have housed both the charter and his ministry’s other operations, a clear conflict of interest the local school boards and parent activists pointed out repeatedly.

But because charter schools in New Jersey need not be approved by their local school boards, the local sending districts – which eventually grew to include over 30 districts all over South Jersey – had to set aside millions of dollars on the possibility Regis would open its doors this fall.

When the deal for the original property fell through, Khan had to scramble to find a new site – a surprise to the local school boards and residents. At this point, even the NJDOE had to admit that there were too many “misrepresentations” in the Regis application; this week, they denied final approval to the charter. Of course, the budget is set in the sending districts; what happens to the money now is anyone’s guess.

Had Regis been the only charter with problems, charter supporters could brush off this unfortunate outcome as an isolated incident. But charters are becoming an embarrassment all over the state:

NJDOE Coup d’Etat

A couple of bombshells dropped out of the NJ DOE yesterday. First, from Kevin Shelley at the Courier-Post:

CAMDEN – A secret Department of Education proposal called for the state to intervene in the city’s school district by July 1, closing up to 13 city and charter schools.

But while reserving the right to exercise his “statutory authority,” Gov. Chris Christie has no plans to enact the DOE scenario, according to his spokesman.

“It never made its way to the governor’s office,” said Michael Drewniak. No one from the governor’s office was involved in preparing the document, he added.

Justin Barra, a DOE spokesman, called the proposal one of many “recommendations” for the city’s struggling school system.

“It is irresponsible to portray this document as anything other than a preliminary look at the options the state would have to improve failing schools or to portray this as a plan for intervention in Camden. It is not,” said Barra in an emailed statement.

He said the DOE is conducting “an in-depth evaluation of Camden … to identify the role the state can play to better support school and district improvement. No determinations will be made about how best to support student improvement in Camden until this detailed evaluation is complete.”

Well, looks like everyone in the Christie administration is running away from this one. But is anyone surprised they might try this? The DOE is running Newark with a minimum of citizen input, tightening its grip on Paterson, clearing the path for Broadies (What’s a “Broadie”? Look below) in Jersey City*, meddling in Perth Amboy, overriding citizens voices in Trenton, laying plans in Cherry Hill, helping friends in Highland Park… Why would Camden be let off of the hook?

So, who’s coming up with the big takeover plans?

The intervention proposal, which was obtained by the Courier-Post, was written by Department of Education employee Bing Howell.

He did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.

Howell serves as a liaison to Camden for the creation of four Urban Hope Act charter schools. He reports directly to the deputy commissioner of education, Andy Smerick.

Howell’s proposal suggests that he oversee the intervention through portfolio management – providing a range of school options with the state, not the district, overseeing the options. He would be assisted by Rochelle Sinclair, another DOE employee. Both Howell and Sinclair are fellows of the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation. [emphasis mine]

Kinda like Old Faithful at this point: Broadies spewing up regularly. The proposal calls for the usual round of school closings, because instability is just so freaking great for kids living in difficult conditions. But here’s the part that’s going to raise eyebrows:

Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf Testifies

Chris Cerf, Acting NJ Education Commissioner, testifies today before an Assembly panel looking at how Gov. Christie’s state budget and how it may impact NJ public schools. The hearing began a few minutes ago in Committee Room 11, State House Annex.

Want to follow along?

  • Watch NJTV: in a move we hope becomes a trend, they’re broadcasting the hearing live. Good on you, NJTV.
  • Follow us @bluejersey: we’re live-Tweeting. #assemblynj
  • Listen LIVE at NJ Legislature’s media page (you need Windows Media Player).

    Sure to be a hot issue is a report by the non-partisan legislative staff at Office Of Legislative Services (OLS) that suggest the increases of this year and next mask a longer-term shift in New Jersey’s education spending priorities, from support for especially at-risk students to a funding system favoring wealthier suburban school districts. Read it: OLS Analysis New Jersey Budget 2012-2013

    Read it: OLS Analysis New Jersey Budget 2012-2013

    Chris Cerf, NJ’s Acting Education Commissioner, will also testify today. Cerf calls the changes the Christie administration wants to make “modest” and “based on common sense.” But Cerf is a professional water-carrier for the drive to defund public education and create opportunities for privatizers to “invest” in educating children, and for charter schools with questionable accountability. A framework of thinking the Governor has also subscribed to.  

  • Cookie cutter states: Christie’s lack of NJ loyalty

    This caught my eye:

    One assistant commissioner, Penny MacCormack, was hired last fall for three months at $1,000 a day until she could be confirmed by the state Board of Education as a permanent hire in January. She is now earning a salary of $135,000 a year, officials said.

    Cerf defended the extra pay, saying MacCormack was a critical hire and the consultants on the funding report – including some notable national names in the school funding debates – were invaluable.

    “This level of talent and expertise comes with a price tag,” he said.

    So I looked up who Penny MacCormack is. She’s moving here from Connecticut where she’s been working in education for a while. And joining other people from around the country jetting in to reshape NJ’s education system.

    It used to be that part of conservatism meant knowing a place well and being skeptical of outside big ideas. But now it means being part of a shadowy national Koch Brothers funded network that tells each state what to do.

    Ms. MacCormack might be a fine person for all I know, and I don’t mean to cast aspersions on her personally. It’s just that there is a lot of value in knowing a place well. States, and communities, are different from one another. Yet so many of Christie’s ideas, especially on education, are much more one size fits all – like the idea that charter schools are always better even when local communities don’t want them.

    Looking at big ideas too often misses that different things work in different places. Here is perhaps my favorite story (outside of NJ) about this – a school reform effort that looks NOTHING like what everybody thinks should work but is getting results.

    We need more outside the box thinking from the ground up and fewer national “experts.” Unfortunately, Christie is not someone who gets that – unlike, say, Tom Kean, who did an amazing job building a talented, homegrown staff. And our state is the poorer for it.

    Charter School Authorization Vote Today

    Save Our Schools NJ reports that the full Assembly will vote today on two charter school bills:

    -Assembly bill 1877 (bill A3852/S2243 last session), which would require local approval before the establishment of new charter schools, and

    -Assembly bill 2147 (bills A3356/S3005/S3001 last session), which would increase charter school educational and financial accountability and transparency and address the fact that NJ charter school students do not represent the demographics of their sending districts.

    A2147 seems like a no-brainer: charters should be held to high standards of transparency and accountability. And since charters will be required to keep records for both student demographics and attrition, ACTING Commissioner Cerf will no longer be able to play the game of touting charter “successes” on one hand while claiming he can’t produce reports on charters he promised long ago because he doesn’t have the data.

    In other words: when it comes to charters, Cerf will have to put up or shut up. Good.

    A1877 is more problematic, but in the end, I support it. In general, I don’t think the public should be making education decisions in a referendum. But the DOE has become so politicized, they simply can’t be trusted any more to make decisions based solely on sound practice and evidence.

    I would normally say the solution is to put the fate of charters in the hands of the sending districts, but there are problems with that as well. Districts like Newark and Jersey City are still being run by the state, so the citizens would have no voice in charter approvals. And it’s possible special interest groups could capture a board, approve charters for their own children, and subsequently decimate the local public schools (Lakewood isn’t far away from that scenario).

    Some will argue that this will make it very difficult for any new charters to be approved, to which I say, “Yeah – so what?” We have lots of evidence that “successful” charters are not replicable, as they serve student populations that are fundamentally different from pubic schools. We shouldn’t be pushing for more of these schools without solid evidence that they can actually “beat the odds” and help all children succeed.

    Unless and until ACTING Commissioner Cerf produces his long-delayed report (which he promised “as quickly as is humanly possible”), and it takes student demographics into account, there is little point in rolling the dice on more charters. A1877 is the best way to put the brakes on this creeping privatization of pubic schools.

    Your thoughts?