Newark bickers over Facebook donation

Newark’s troubled schools are getting $100 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Mayor Cory Booker has raised another $44 million in donations, so far.  But Newark is split on how to spend the windfall, reports the Wall Street Journal. Booker, who spent $1 million surveying what parents want from the schools, plans to close failing schools, open new schools and let charters share space with district-run schools. He also wants longer school days and weaker tenure protections for principals and teachers.

This week, nearly $1 million was awarded to five new high schools, which will share space with existing schools. Critics say the money should go to the old schools. And they want Booker to reveal the donors who gave $44 million.

“I know you’re not supposed to look a gift horse in the mouth,” said Councilwoman Mildred Crump at a public hearing Wednesday evening at City Hall. “Well I’m checking this one out.” Residents in the audience applauded her sentiment.

Only 22 percent of Newark’s high school students pass the state graduation exam and earn a diploma on schedule; another 33 percent graduate through an alternative system. Tens of thousands of children are on charter-school waiting lists. Even before Zuckerberg’s donation was announced in September, new schools were in the planning stages, Booker points out.

Newark schools have been under state control since 1995.  Republican Gov. Chris Christie fired the superintendent in February. Booker, a Democrat, is collaborating with Christie on school reform plans. That’s angered and alarmed unionized teachers and their political allies who don’t want to see the spread of non-union charter schools.

(Councilwoman) Crump joined a union rally and protest outside of City Hall Wednesday afternoon before the public hearing. She implored the protesters to vote for a certain slate of candidates on April 27. “We have a clear choice between those who will do nothing for labor and those who will do everything for labor,” she said into the microphone. She told the protesters to vote for the three candidates who “are about labor.” She then led people in a chant: “Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs,” and added: “Jobs that are safe and secure!”

District enrollment is declining. Some 400 school district employees may lose their jobs this year.

Newark school woes transcend money, summarizes USA Today. “Last week the school advisory board voted against opening the new schools. The district plans to open them anyway. Students are already signing up.”