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Est. April 5, 2002
April 28, 2016 - Issue 651

Trenton’s Educators’ and Citizens’
Stand Against Layoffs
and the
Cartel: A Fight for Workers

"There appears to be a crisis in educational values
in that students in majority-minority, as well as
majority, low-income New Jersey school districts
are viewed as expendable and not deserving of the
necessary resources to avoid being pushed
into the school-to-prison pipeline."

links to all 20 parts of the opening series

Note: After completing a 20 part series that connected the dots regarding the assualt on public education and public school teachers, BC has renamed Dr. Farrell's column to fit his analytical approach to the important issue of education in America.

Last Monday, the Trenton Board of Education issued 236 layoff notices to professional and paraprofessional educators. It appears that school board president, Jason Redd, and Mayor Eric Jackson are exacting retribution from the unions and the community for their aggressive opposition to the search for a new superintendent that Redd and the mayor were forced to cancel. Yet not one district principal or supervisor was furloughed.

As a result, more than 400 citizens turned out to the April 25th Board meeting to express their passionate disapproval of these dismissals and repeatedly requested that the entire Board resign. The crowd was so large that additional space had to be arranged for the overflow.

During the meeting, Board vice president, Gerald Truehart, made some nonsensical comments saying “… the district budget was like a pie, and you had to get 100 slices out.” Go figure. It was also instructive that Board member, Dr. Jane Rosenbaum, whose husband sits on the grievance committee of Rider University’s faculty union, the Association of American University Professors (AAUP), of which she is also a member, has been in lockstep with the Board’s assault on district unions (the Trenton Education Association and the Trenton Paraprofessionals).

As speaker after speaker condemned the decision on terminations, Board president, Jason Redd, in response to speakers’ statements that the Board did not care about Trenton’s school children, condescendingly said, “You are as ignorant as your comments.” It was made clear that the Board had no intent of reversing its ruling. However, it did state that it would issue a new Request for Proposal (RFP) for a search firm to recruit candidates for the superintendent’s position. Ironically, the Board also announced that it would attend the rally at the Capitol on May 15th, organized by Trenton’s education unions, to demand that the Christie administration increase its funding of the Trenton school district.

The chair of the Trenton NAACP education committee said the NAACP would sue the Board over the layoffs and called for a forensic audit of all Board expenditures. Billy Hayes, a local community activist, indicated he felt that the Board and Trenton school administrators had likely been involved in criminal activity with respect to their use and manipulation of district funds and that a series of state monitors have been involved in this process.

When State Sen. Shirley Turner went to the podium, she asked the Board whether it had been directed by the state monitor to privatize school services and was rebuffed by every member. The fact that the Board refused to respond to a Trenton-area legislator, who is vice chair of the Senate education committee and one of the legislature’s most senior members, is interesting indeed. Is the Board so beholden to the Christie administration and the private-sector, via its president, Jason Redd, that it feels comfortable giving the back of its hand to a high-ranking African American legislator?

The advocates for special needs students were specifically vocal in protesting the job cuts. Nicole Kiefer, who heads Trenton’s Special Education Advocacy Group (SEAG), was straightforward in stating that she would no longer be cooperating in helping the district avoid and/or resolve special education parent complaints against the administration for violation of federal and state special education mandates. SEAG, an after-school program for special needs students, offers free services at no charge to the district or to parents.

Previously provided free space in a Trenton school building to carry out its programming, SEAG had saved the district millions of dollars by making its services available to the special education population which is 19% of Trenton’s total students. SEAG was bounced from its space at the same time the Board was preparing notices for the “execution” of 92 special education paraprofessionals. Moreover, this action is occurring at the same time that the special needs population is projected to increase for the 2016-2017 school year.

A careful analysis of recent Board actions leads one to the following conclusions:

  • The greatest threat to Trenton’s children does not come from their performance on PARCC or other high-stakes tests;

  • Rather, it is the systematic under-funding of the their school district and the growing privatization of school services that are the major barriers to their educational success;

  • Consistent with testimony at Monday night’s meeting, the Board does not appear to view Trenton’s children as a worthy social and financial investment; and

  • There appears to be a crisis in educational values in that students in Trenton, Newark, Camden, Bridgeton, Elizabeth, and other majority-minority, as well as majority, low-income New Jersey school districts are viewed as expendable and not deserving of the necessary resources to avoid being pushed into the school-to-prison pipeline.

To quote Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), that is facing similar cuts in the Chicago Public Schools, “(Trenton parents and citizens) pay taxes. (They) live under extreme economic conditions that call on (them) to continue to give up more and more in a ham and egg justice scenario. We drop the ham (which means a whole leg) and (the Trenton school district) gives up an egg and keeps on moving.”

We need to change this paradigm if we are committed to educating the next generation of New Jersey’s students, particularly those of color who are poor.

In the aftermath of the tumultuous Monday Board meeting, a group of parents and community activists, with tempers still boiling over their disrespect by board members and the lack of response by Mayor Jackson, who appointed them, held an impromptu meeting where they vented their anger. Several in attendance suggested that they recruit a candidate to challenge the mayor in the next election.

A few current Trenton city council members have quietly expressed interest in doing so but felt it would be an uphill battle. However, the current education crisis has caused reconsideration. One name that emerged, that generated significant interest, was that of Rev. E. Stanley Justice, a well-respected member of the local clergy, who has long been on the front lines of the struggle for social justice. There was a collective call for the replacement of both elected and appointed officials who had a hand in these job losses, and Rev. Justice stood out. Stay tuned!

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has appeared on the Today Show with Matt Lauer and National Public Radio’s The Connection to discuss public school privatization, and he has lectured to parent, teacher, and union groups throughout the nation. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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