Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson announced plans in December to reorganize the district’s schools via several public school closures, the opening of more charter schools and the consolidation of schools suffering from declining enrollment.
But one group of attorneys says these plans are blatantly prohibited by legal code.
Attorneys for the Education Law Center (ELC) in Newark, N.J., allege the district’s “One Newark” plan cannot move forward because the district has not followed proper protocol. Under New Jersey code, school districts are required to submit a Long Range Facilities Plan (LRFP), detailing facility conditions and maintenance needs to the state Department of Education (DOE), at least every five years.
The state DOE is required to approve the plans before districts move forward with construction projects. Although district officials have been touting the One Newark plan, the district has not had an LRFP approved since 2007.
In early February, the ELC filed a lawsuit against the state DOE for failing to ensure that Newark and 30 other school districts submit up-to-date LRFPs. David Sciarra, the executive director for the center, told The Huffington Post the group is now considering taking legal action directly against Newark School District.
“Newark’s [last LRFP] was prepared in 2005 and approved by state in 2007,” Sciarra told HuffPost over the phone. “Conditions in the building over those nine years period have changed fairly dramatically … the whole plan should be set aside until the district completes that plan.”
The FAQ portion of a district website dedicated to the One Newark plan -- which intends to both consolidate schools for resource-related reasons and expand school choice options -- says decisions were based on “careful data analysis of NPS schools … taking into account the academic performance over time" and "the school’s enrollment over time.”
However, Sciarra says that without an LRFP, the public remains in the dark about how exactly the plan was devised.
“Throughout this plan, there has been what I would call a dearth of information,” Sciarra said. “When you talk about a plan like this, that seems like its going to have such a long term impact on education … it seems to me that you’d want a report.”
While a representative from the district would not comment on questions about the district’s lack of LRFP, Michael Yaple, the director of public information for the state DOE, told HuffPost it would be premature to say “anything ‘illegal’ or even ‘improper’ has occurred, because the process isn’t complete.”
“There are certain procedures to be followed when a district closes a school, and the state DOE ensures that local districts follow those procedures. It’s that simple,” Yaple explained via email.
Anderson has been subject to strong opposition after quickly taking steps to close schools and fire local principals. This vitriol was only heightened when she announced the One Newark plan, which community activists argue was created without community input. They also say its emphasis on charter schools constitutes as an attack on traditional public education.
On the other hand, Anderson’s camp charges the plan was created out of necessity, as the district continues to report dismal test scores and declining enrollment.
“As we have seen year after year, families are leaving schools that are failing and there is no reason why any family should accept a school that isn’t preparing their child for the future,” Anderson said in a press release earlier this month.