Saturday, Mar 28th

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How to really punish Clippers owner Donald Sterling

By now, you may have heard the recording of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist remarks about black people, or perhaps you have at least heard about the controversy regarding the recording, which was ironically made public on his 80th birthday.

The list of people who spoke out against Sterling is a who's who of the nation's elite, including LeBron James, Snoop Dogg, Magic Johnson - who was a direct victim of the recording - and even President Barack Obama. There is no doubt that Sterling has offended millions more.


Why Should You Vote for Ras Baraka?

Local Talk Endorses Ras Baraka for Newark MayorRss_Baraka

I have been watching Newark's development since the inception of Local Talk Newspaper in November 2000. I am not happy with the way development has been going on. Only some people are benefiting from the system, while the majority of citizens are not. In the last decade, Newark has had a cosmetic growth rather than quality of life growth. Only the Central Ward - basically a business corridor - has seen real growth. I think for the first time, there is a leader who can improve the quality of life for the people. That is Ras Baraka.

Before I commit to anyone, I have analyzed both of the candidates and made my decision accordingly.

First, let's talk about organizational skills and experience. High school is like a smaller city, if we compare Central High School to Newark. The principal is like the mayor, dealing with diverse students (like citizens), some bad ones and some good ones. Like me, Baraka believes in first trying to work with them, and if there is no change in attitude, then use the final tactic, which is laying down the law. Teachers are like employees of the city, some disgruntled and some cooperative. Baraka has dealt with that situation almost every day. The Board of Ed is like the council, and the principal and the Board have to work together. If the principal does not like a proposal, then the principal can oppose it, but act with a good conscience and make sure that the job gets done, which is educating the students. Baraka has done this exceptionally well.

In this category, Ras Baraka has transformed Central High School from a dangerous school to a competitive school in the city of Newark. In this regard, Shavar Jeffries does not have any experience. He has been on the school board, but he has not seen the process day to day like Baraka has.

Crime is a vital issue concerning the development of Newark. Baraka wants to tackle crime, understanding the bad groups and helping change their attitude and how they go about their business. All of the residents are part of a large family. If a family member does something wrong, we immediately do not kick them out. We first try to convince him with a calm tactic. If that does not work, than we try to punish them. If that fails, then we use full force. I think Jeffries believes in using the force first, via his experience as an assistant attorney general.

In terms of working with the community, Baraka has a clear edge over Jeffries in my opinion. Baraka has a heart for the people, and he has shown that day in and out.

Working with political powerbrokers, Jeffries has a clear edge over Baraka, and by that, Jeffries can draw more money to the city. Also, I think Jeffries is a slight better orator than Baraka.

Jeffries can bring in big businesses, like Cory Booker did. However, in terms of giving contracts to local small businesses, Baraka can work with community clearly, and help them get more business, including with city hall in my opinion.

In terms of attitude, Jeffries has a little edge over Baraka, as Baraka sometimes loses his softness. However, sometimes a hard attitude works, as Baraka will have to work with many diverse people and get the job done.
When taking photos, Baraka stays true to what he is. He doesn't try to pretend to be something he is not.

Ras Baraka also has experience as a councilman and deputy mayor, in addition to working with the city council. While it is unlikely that a mayor and council will agree on everything, it's always good to have someone who knows how things are done. This will expedite matters, regardless of who is right or wrong. The people of Newark do not win if the mayor and council fight over the same thing for months, like with the MUA.

Most importantly, there is the issue of a monopoly of power. Jeffries has worked with the party bosses and powerbrokers. He has raised ample money for this election. The party bosses thinks that Newarkers are naïve, and are spreading around money to basically buy votes and put whoever they want in power. This has been happening for a long time.

I have not seen growth for Newarkers since the inception of Local Talk, but the politicians and their supporters grew big time. New buildings and big businesses aren't "Newarkers." I mean the actual people. Baraka has given me hope that he will work for the people. He's a fighter. He has fought for people's rights in the past. His father worked against all odds, and drew controversy when he wrote a poem about 9/11 when he was a poet laureate. He had to resign, but he stood behind his belief.

I think this time, Newarkers will not be fooled. To stop the monopoly of power, the people must elect Ras Baraka for Mayor. It is vital that all the citizens who believe in Newark, rather than praising the power only, should go to the polls and cast their precious vote.

I am not trying to force you to vote for Baraka, but I am trying to give your material for you to think about and make a sound decision. I want every Newarker to think twice, and no matter what, go to the booth and vote without fail. You owe this to yourself. If not, you will be in the same position after another four years, or forty years for that matter.

I, Dhiren Shah, publisher of Local Talk Newspaper, endorse Ras Baraka for Mayor of Newark.

Myth vs. Math: What’s Happening to Newark’s Public Schools and Why

rossThere are approximately 12,000 fewer students attending traditional Newark Public Schools than there were just five years ago. Roughly 10,000 of those former Newark Public School students attend one of the 27 Newark Public Charter Schools operated by 18 different providers. Approximately 2,000 are simply off the rolls, either because families moved, or because the children are not attending school. If no new charter public schools are approved and opened in Newark, and only those currently operating grow to previously approved scale, a full 40% of Newark's school-aged children will be educated in a public charter school within two years.

The result? A 250 million dollar budget gap in two years, compounded by soaring infrastructure costs associated with maintaining or bringing up to code underutilized and dilapidated school buildings and holding on to excess staff, all while working to educate those young people who, for many reasons, have academic, social, and emotional needs that require exceptional skills, and additional resources for them to be successful.

Of the schools currently operated by the Newark Public School district, not one is rated as "excellent," and fewer than 20% are considered in the "good" range. That leaves over 80% of the district schools in the "poor" designation in terms of student achievement. These include K-8 schools with fewer than 25% reading on grade level, and high schools with fewer than 20% graduating with a traditional diploma.

Faced with poor performance, underutilized, crumbling schools, bloated administrative and support staff costs, a growing excess pool of teachers and principals, a widening budget deficit exacerbated by the exodus of children and families to charter public schools, communities decimated by violence, high chronic absenteeism, children and families living in fear, and the impact of concentrated poverty on children and their readiness to learn, Superintendent Cami Anderson and her team have developed and are prepared to implement a bold plan in 2014.

The plan, as currently configured is complicated and most certainly (and obviously) controversial. It also highlights the need for dispatch and systemic change that goes far beyond anything that has been tried to date. If nothing is done, and done quickly, it is likely that the Newark Public School District, as we know it, will cease to exist in less than five years.

With an understanding that data is available to support everything that is being presented, here is a brief summary of what is being proposed and/or already taking place in Newark and why:

1. Accelerate but simultaneously cap charter school growth; blur the lines between charter public and district public schools by focusing on providing approximately 100 excellent school options to accommodate all Newark children.

2. Enforce data sharing agreements and manage a universal enrollment process for both charter public and district public schools that prioritize neighborhoods in the choice process. In other words, stop allowing charters to empty neighborhoods, but rather, bring high performing charters to neighborhoods to operate a subset of low performing district schools (avoiding the closure of those very schools by the district).

3. Move promising district models that have emerged over the last several years, such as Eagle Academy for Young Men and the All Girls Academy of Newark, as well as Newark Early Collage, and Newark Leadership Academy (all district schools) into under enrolled and low performing comprehensive high schools. This essentially saves these under enrolled and low performing high schools from closure, expands promising models, and turns every high school into some form of a magnet school.

4. Close or "resite" a small number of under enrolled district schools located in buildings requiring substantial investments just to bring them up to code, much less have them serve as 21st century learning facilities.

5. Use 100 million dollars recently appropriated (with more expected) by the School Development Authority to begin construction of two new schools in neighborhoods where the demand for district schools is high and where buildings are the most in need of improvements.

6. Operationalize a one-time waiver on union requirements in order to "right size" the district based upon quality and effectiveness and not simply seniority. This, (if granted) will result in a substantial number of teachers, principals, and support staff being terminated. Of this group, it is the support staff, predominantly Newark residents working in highly prized jobs in maintenance, security, food service, and clerical work, that is the most troubling as they support the very children the district is working to serve. At this time, the district is seeking between 7 and 11 million dollars of private funding to assist in providing a "soft landing" for these individuals. This will include funding for certification programs, workforce development, and transition support—both financial and through coaching and job placement services.

7. Already empty buildings owned by the district, as well as a couple that will be empty as a result of students attending other district public or public charter schools will be utilized by a smaller, more effective and efficient central office staff, currently being housed in leased space at 2 Cedar Street at a cost of 4 million dollars per year.

The anticipated outcomes?
• More resources driven to classrooms to support teaching and learning.
• Fewer, but better equipped, more technologically advanced, safer and healthier school buildings.
• Reduced erosion of neighborhood schools as a result of prioritizing neighborhood schools in the universal selection process—for district public and charter public schools.
• More funds redirected to expanded learning time opportunities and increased staffing for social-emotional learning and family intervention specialists.
• A collaborative district/charter sector with transparency, accountability, as well as increased numbers of special education students being served by charter schools that have opted into the universal enrollment process (currently 70% have opted in).

These changes will be layered on top of:
• A more robust teacher evaluation and professional development protocol.
• A negotiated agreement with the Newark Teachers Union that provides a vehicle for teachers to vote on extending the school day in exchange for additional compensation.
• A more rigorous principal and vice principal recruitment and retention program.
• Greater equity for all children to be educated in learning environments that have a higher probability of young people being on track for college.

Will it work?
As with most bold initiatives, the devil is in the details. Change is hard enough when the trust level in a community is high. It is almost impossible to facilitate sustainable reform when trust is extremely low. When trust is high—when people feel like they have been heard, when they see positive results of previous decisions, when they feel like their children are not part of someone's experiment, and when they recognize that those who are designing and implementing change have their best interests and the best interests of their children in their hearts, they forgive the inevitable implementation challenges and missteps.

When trust is low—as it is presently in Newark, there are not enough data decks, community presentations, evidence, research, or PowerPoint presentations, to keep good people from reading bad things into evolving plans developed by outsiders, who are perceived as less interested in helping children than in building their resumes for personal gain. In a bifurcated, oppositional, often contentious city, where people have been lied to and ripped off for generations, by people and organizations who claimed to be here to help, who can blame them for being upset by people who seem to represent those very same interests, now looking to close their schools, ruin their neighborhoods, and take their children and their jobs?

Add to this a Mayoral election scheduled to take place in May of 2014, that is flaming the embers of discontent to serve the political interests of candidates, and you have a situation where even strong, positive community leaders, including members of the clergy, have either gone silent in their support, or have recanted their support altogether.

Here at the Newark Trust for Education, we try our best to live in the world of facts. We also recognize that which facts one chooses to focus upon and how one interprets the facts determines how they respond. Anyone who manages a household knows that not having enough money at the end of the month to pay your bills could be a fact- but whether you choose to believe you are managing your money poorly or that you are not making enough money leads to an entirely different response to the facts. All we are hoping for is a rigorous conversation about our children's future that is both optimistic and simultaneously aware of the severity of our circumstances. This is hard and important work that will determine whether we choose to prepare our young people for their future, or our past.

New Jersey Should Embrace Cuomo’s Focus on Governmental Consolidation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dedicated more than four minutes of his 2014 State of the State speech earlier this month to discuss what needs to be done to finally control the ever increasing property taxes across his state: Governmental consolidation.

In his speech, Cuomo recognized that there is no sensible way for New York to control property taxes when it must deal with 10,500 local government entities taxing - and often overtaxing – property owners. "The state must address the proliferation and expense of local governments," he said. "We must tackle a major structural problem."

In 2009, when Cuomo served as his state's attorney general, he drafted the "Citizen Empowerment Act," which gives residents and local officials the power to study consolidation and dissolution of local governments. He supported the law with a user-friendly website and a guidebook. The State guaranteed up to $25,000 in immediate financial assistance when citizens petition and an additional $75,000 for reorganization planning and implementation.

Since that time, Cuomo noted that only two consolidations have taken place, which he finds unacceptable. "Time to stop making excuses and start making progress," he said.

In an effort to further encourage consolidation, Gov. Cuomo is sweetening the financial incentives with up to $1 million for entities that consolidate, as well as supporting a newly-created Financial Restructuring Board.

It is amazing that New Jersey is much farther along in consolidation than New York – despite little financial support.

But what New Jersey does have is its 2007 Local Option Municipal Consolidation Law. And it is working.

New Jersey now has its first successful municipal merger under this law, saving the combined towns of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township more than $3 million each year. The consolidated Princeton has better municipal services, with a stronger police force, by pooling resources, expanding programs that work and reducing redundancy. We were pleased to see Christie speak about the successful Princeton merger in his State of the State address on Tuesday. Residents in Scotch Plains and Fanwood have also used the law to submit petitions and form a Consolidation Study Commission in 2012. But without financial assistance from the state to fund a consolidation study, a three-year, citizen-driven effort could come to an end.

There are residents from many other towns across New Jersey who have contacted Courage To Connect New Jersey to learn more about the municipal consolidation law and its benefits. They are intrigued with the possibility of less local government, and the potential permanent savings from merging police departments, public works departments and other municipal components that have caused taxes to become unbearable for many.

New Jersey is plagued with the same onerous property taxes as New York. But Cuomo is determined to help New Yorkers consolidate local government to save money. It is time for New Jersey to do the same, investing in consolidation studies and local efforts to streamline government. It is our hope Christie will ask for financial incentives dedicated to promote and support municipal consolidation in his budget address next month

Yes, the state budget is always tight. But, as Cuomo understands, a small investment at the beginning of the road could ultimately lead to huge savings, easing New Jersey's chronic property tax problems.

Also, we ask editors to view the speech. 

Op-Ed: A Successful Education Needs All the Right Inputs


As another year draws to a close and a new one begins, I find myself reflecting on all of the changes that are now taking place or are about to take place here in Newark in order to ensure that all of our children have access to a quality public education. It is clear that what we are experiencing is a monumental shift in thinking about education. Not just in Newark, but also all across America.

And what is this big change that is causing so much tension and resistance? It is the shift away from a general concern about inputs to a relentless focus on outputs. When I started teaching in the 1970s I was evaluated based on inputs. Did I submit my lesson plans for review on time? Did I have an objective written on the board? Did I summarize the lesson for students in the last five minutes of class? Did the students behave themselves during the observation by my supervisor? I was never held accountable for whether or not I taught them anything. If my students did not do well, it was somehow their fault, not mine. That, thankfully, is changing. And of course, not everyone is happy about that.

Even as a school principal in the '90s, I was evaluated on whether or not all my reports were in on time, if parents, teachers, and students were happy, and if the hallways were clear between bells, and clean in the morning. I received more positive feedback on organizing a flag ceremony with the Boy Scouts, the local VFW, and the Rotary Club than I ever received on whether or not the needs of our special education population were being effectively addressed, or whether our students were achieving state growth measures. Thankfully, that is all changing, and again, not everyone is happy about that.

Even universities are faced with alternative licensure and certification programs emerging that are not based on amassing a specific number of courses (inputs) but on candidates demonstrating competency against clearly defined criteria (outputs). And because universities sell courses, not guarantee competency, they are either quite upset, or in complete denial that this is happening.

The entire education sector is publicly confronting unprecedented, but predictable challenges associated with the implementation of outcome-based systems. For example, everyone understands that parent engagement and parent involvement is important for the successful education of children. Parent engagement is an input. So is breakfast. So is coming to school. SMART Boards, iPads, class size and cultural competence: All inputs.

Why do public school leaders encourage parent involvement and evaluate school principals on how effectively they engage their community? Because it is proven to increase student achievement. Why do public school leaders support culturally relevant programs, meaningful, rigorous, and engaging instruction, delivered in safe, nurturing and supportive environments where all adults have high expectations for all children? Because these are the inputs that lead to all students being prepared to lead successful lives.

To be clear: I fully support having all of the right inputs in place and demanding the resources to ensure that our children are able to learn in well-equipped facilities with quality materials, in safe, nurturing environments. But as we look ahead to 2014 and beyond, let's fervently demand for equity around the only output that matters—ensuring all of our children graduate prepared to lead successful, meaningful lives.

Ross Danis is president and CEO of the Newark Trust for Education.

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