By Walter Elliott

NEWARK - A related ballot referendum question here headlines what is for now a "Local Talk" record eight public school district ballots for the Nov. 6 General Election.

Registered voters here in New Jersey's largest city are being asked Nov. 6 whether to keep the Newark Board of Education as an elected body (Type II school district) or a mayor-appointed panel (Type I school district).

The Newark Public Schools' nine voting members are currently voter-elected - an annual April event since early in the New Jersey Department of Education's 1995-2018 direct reign.

NJDOE has returned operational and institutional autonomy to NPS Feb. 1. Newark's school board promoted longtime teacher-turned-Assistant Superintendent Roger Leon to Superintendent of Schools, succeeding Interim Superintendent A. Robert Gregory and Christopher Cerf - the last NPS State District Superintendent - July 1.

Part of that return to autonomy process, however, included a stipulation that how three NPS BOE members are annually selected be put before voters.

NPS could rejoin some 15 Type I statewide school districts - including East Orange, Montclair and Summit - in having its mayor appoint board members.

NPS had that practice until sometime during Mayor Sharpe James' 1986-2006 administration. That appointed school board category, statewide, shrank from 20 since 2016.

Orange, with its Nov. 6 ballot, is making a three-year Type I-Type II transition. A successful Nov. 7, 2017 public question referendum vote started that process.

NPS's exact language has yet to be filed with Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin's Election Division office. It is not known, for instance, whether the question and interpretive statement will include whether to move its BOE elections from the third Tuesday in April to the first Tuesday in November's General Election.

Newark and Irvington Public Schools are the last "Local Talk" districts to keep their April school board elections. Keeping it there allows Irvington voters - and, maybe future Newark voters, to approve or reject the next school year's budgets.

Nov. 6's "Local Talk" record public school district election participation is largely due to most of the other school systems taking advantage of moving their elections to November. The tradeoff, by 2012 state law, is that those school districts cannot put their budgets before voters unless it is projected to exceed the two percent property tax increase.

NPS board members and administrators may want to consult their Orange colleagues in how to draft their question and interpretative statement. A State Administrative Law Judge, citing a lack of detail and specifics, declared Orange's Nov. 8, 2016 approval null and void.

ORANGE Public Schools' first-ever November school election is to meanwhile pit three incumbents against three challengers.

Current Orange Board of Education members Rhoda O. Irodia and Jarteau Israel are seeking their first elected three-year terms. They were appointed to OBOE by Mayor Dwayne Warren.

Fellow incumbent Siaka Sherif is looking to become the first OBOE member to be re-elected.

A majority of participating registered Orange voters elected Sherif to an eight-month term March 13. The same voters finished expanding OBOE to nine members by also electing Tyrone J. Tarver to a two-year, eight-month term.

Orange Historic Preservation Commission member Derrick Henry is making his third run for the school board. Hamza S. Agwedicham and Brenda Daugherty are making their first runs.

BELLEVILLE Public Schools' ballot has two of its three incumbents - one of whom keeping a promise - facing two challengers.

Board President Christine Lamparello and Vice President Nelson Barrera are running for re-election.

BOE Trustee Arlene Schor, who was selected by the board July 16 among a field of six candidates, is making good her promise that night not to run for re-election.

Gynise M. Gotto and Olga Setteducato, who also appeared before BOE Trustees July 16, are the two campaigning challengers.

SOUTH ORANGE-MAPLEWOOD voters in are to choose among one incumbent and 10 challengers for three seats.

Annemarie Miani, of South Orange, is seeking her second three-year term. Current SOMSD vice presidents Madhu Pai and Chris Sabin, who was Miani's running mate in 2015, have decided not to seek re-election.

Recent Columbia High School graduates Felicia George and Avery Julien, both of Maplewood, are making their second straight run together. Shannon Cuttle, of Maplewood and Marian Cutler, of South Orange are also conducting second campaigns.

First-time challengers are: Narda Chisolm-Greene, Javier A. Farfan, Michael Laskowski, Bruno J. Navarro, Christopher Trzaska and James C. Wilkes. Chisolm-Greene is the sole South Orangite among the Maplewoodian challengers.

WEST ORANGE voters are to fill two board seats from among three challengers.

Cheryl Merklinger, Jeremias Salinas and Terry Trigg-Scales are making debut runs. WOBOE President Ronald Charles and Board Member Irving Schawrzbaum have decided not to seek re-election.

BLOOMFIELD has 10 candidates vying for three three-year seats and a single one-year seat.

Former board member Benjamin Morse and newcomer Bryan Crawley are looking to fill the remaining year of Gladys Rivera's term, Rivera, who was elected Nov. 2016, resigned Sept. 6, 2017.

Incumbents Daniel Anderson, Michael Heller and Laura Izurieta are vying against five familiar or new challengers for the full terms. Former School Board President Shane Berger is seeking for a return. Joey Polidoro, Ralph Walker and Dick Wolfe are making their first runs.

GLEN RIDGE has two incumbents and two challengers vying for two board seats.

Borough Board Vice President David J. Campbell and member Tim Keppel are seeking re-election. Challenging are Anthony Bonnet and Teresa Boyle-Vellucci.

NUTLEY has its three incumbents facing as many challengers for full terms.

Salvatore Balsano, Ryan Klineand Deborah J. Russo are looking for re-election. Former six-year member Kenneth Reilly is seeking a return. Teresa A. "Teri" Quirk and Erica Zarro who have formed a parents group wanting armed school guards, are challenging.


By Walter Elliott

NEWARK - A majority of participating voters here and in Irvington may well have had a major motel chain's "No Surprises" advertising slogan in mind when they went to the school board election polls April 17.

The "Moving Newark Schools Forward" team of Yambeli Gomez, Dawn Haynes and Asia Norton, according to unofficial 7 a.m. April 18 returns, were swept onto the Newark Public Schools Board of Education over 10 other candidates on the city's ballot.

Some observers have been calling Tuesday's election in Newark historic because it is the first election of the school board's newly-autonomous era.

The three newcomers, who are to join the other sitting six NBOE panelists May 15, are to soon choose the next Superintendent of Schools from among three final candidates.

Previous "State District Superintendents" have been chosen from Trenton - The New Jersey Department of Education, the Governor and State Legislature - in 22 years of state control since July 1, 1995. NJDOE granted NPS autonomy Feb. 1, although contract clauses keep state return at arms length through Feb. 1, 2021.

"Team Irvington Strong" runners Jamiliah Z. Beasley-McCleod, Ronald J. Brown and Melody Scott were meanwhile similarly returned to their Irvington Board of Education seats. Township voters also widely approved the Irvington Public Schools' $17.5 million 2018-19 budget.

Both Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin and Superintendent of Elections Edna Y. Baugh are meanwhile hoping that the "No Surprises" will translate into no challenges or recounts.

Baugh's voting machine mechanics, starting at 11 a.m. April 20 at the county's Belleville garage, will start preparing the electronic devices for the May 8 nonpartisan municipal elections in both towns plus Orange and Belleville.

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Thomas Vena granted Baugh's show cause request April 16 to allow county technicians' access. Attorney Roland Hunt, representing IPS, offered no objections to her request.

Vena could have ruled to have Newark's school board vote postponed to May 8's ballot had he seen things independent candidate Barbara Anne Todish's way.

Baugh relayed to Vena Todish's e-mail asking the judge to reschedule the election to May 8. Todish claimed that the Ras Baraka 2018 municipal campaign had "politicized the non-partisan school board election."

Baraka has made no secret of endorsing "Moving Newark Schools Forward." His campaign workers have printed similar mayor-council and school board candidates election materials.

The said team have been previously called "Newark's Unity Team" in 2016-17. The fusion ticket came when Baraka's "Children's First Team" and the former Steve Adubato, Sr.-backed "For Our Kids" slate merged. This year's ticket includes support from, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) and charter school interests.

Todish also asked Vena to "recuse himself from the decision" since he has not consistently used his middle initial in all of his ruling documents.

Independent candidate Che' JT Colter appeared to express his concerns "from those who I've talked with in the South Ward and among the seniors to keep a close eye on the election."

Vena ended the 15-minute Monday morning hearing at the Historic Courtroom by granting Baugh's request.

Vena's decision means that the standard 14-day voting machine impound period, including a garage watch by State Troopers, is down this time to 63 hours. Any recount will have to rely on the machines' recording tapes and paper rolls.

NEWARK: Moving Newark Schools Forward's Haynes, Norton and Gomez, as of Wednesday, have been chosen over two other teams of three and four independent runners.

Haynes was the top individual vote-getter. She drew 5,240 votes from among the 8,192 votes cast for a percentage of 26.95. Her and others' NPS results are with 108 of the 110 voting districts citywide reporting.

Norton placed second at 4,149 for 21.34. Gomez completed the sweep at 3,725 for 19.16.

Haynes, Norton and Gomez are to succeed current NPS Board President Marques Aquil-Lewis, Dashay Carter and Crystal Fonseca - 2015 team winners who chose not to run for re-election.

Independent candidate Jameel Ibrahim placed fourth. The second-time runner amassed 1,032 for 5.31. Fellow solo runner Colter placed fifth, garnering 1,108 for 5.24.

Denise Cole, of the "Same Vision, Independent Front" platform, placed seventh. Cole tallied 1,000 for 5.14.

Omayra Molina, of the "Parents as Partners" ticket, 888 for 4.57. She finished between Same Vision campaigners Cole and Yolanda Johnson - who received 740 for 381.

Parents partners Marcus Allen, at 517 for 2.66, and Khalid Hannah, at 384 for 1.98, were next.

Same Vision runner Johnnie Lattner came in with 375 for 1.93. Independent Robert House was next at 203 for 1.04. Third time independent runner Todish completed the balloted field with 141 for .73.

There were 31 write-in votes, making up the remaining .16 percent. There were 19,443 votes cast to fill the three NPS seats.

There were an overall 8,192 Newark and Irvington voters who made their choices Tuesday from a combined registered voter pool of 172,174. That ratio comes out to 4.74 percent of voters participating this election.

IRVINGTON: Scott currently garnered the most individual votes from among the five balloted candidates. She drew 829 votes or 30.40 percent from the 21 of 23 voting districts reporting.

Brown was second with 798 or 29.26. Beasle-McCleod completed the Team Irvington Strong sweep with 630 or 23.10.

"Team Irvington Strong" was organized by former IBOE President and current Mayor Anthony "Tony" Vauss. Vauss has also applied the TIS label on his past and current mayor-council candidate slates since his 2014 election.

First-time runner Tacuma Gora was best of the two-man "Change is Coming" team. He drew 290 for 10.63.

Team leader David Pinckney received 173 for 6.34. There were seven write-ins to round out the 2,727 votes cast.

There were 476 voters, or 83.95, approved the IPS $17.5 million budget for the next school year. Another 91 voters, or 16.05, voted "No."

The 567 budget and 2,727 board candidate voters were 4.74 percent of registered Irvington voters who participated Tuesday.

Irvington is the only "Local Talk" town whose voters approve or reject their municipal school district's annual budget.


By Walter Elliott and Dhiren Shah

NEWARK - A new dawn, one that has been anticipated and desired for 21 years, had broken for the Newark Public Schools Sept. 13.

That dawn was not the physical one that broke here at 6:36 a.m. but an  institutional one some four hours later in a Trenton board room.

The New Jersey State Board of Education, in their monthly meeting at 100  River View Plaza, publicly approved the New Jersey Department of  Education's transition plan to return full autonomy to NPS.

Their approval actually came as a pair of resolutions recommended by Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington Aug. 23.

Their votes mean that New Jersey's largest public school district will  have the authority again to make decisions in personnel, governance,  operations, fiscal management and program and instruction.

Their votes begin a transition that will also spell out NPS's steps to  full autonomous sunlight. Those steps are to include a public question  referendum on the current NPS Advisory Board's format and when to hire a  successor to current State District Superintendent Christopher Cerf.

Registered Newark voters, for example, may soon decide on whether to  keep the reborn Newark Board of Education an elective body or a  mayor-appointed body or a hybrid.

The NJDOE retained a nine-person elective school board, but demoted them  to advisory status, throughout their 22-year direct control. The panel,  since 2015, has insisted on calling themselves a board of education  while the NPS Central Office at 2 Cedar St. maintained "NPSAB" on their  website and documents.

Newarkers may also be watching Orange's approach on deciding on an  appointed or an elected school board. A citizens group, who favors  replacing the current seven-member, mayor-appointed panel with an  elected one, seeks to put their public question onto that city's Nov. 7  General Election ballot. Newark's school board will also pick Cerf's  successor. It will be up to them to keep him as an interim  superintendent or launch their own in-house and/or national search  before July 1, 2018.

Cerf, who was appointed by Gov. Christopher Christie July 1, 2015, has a  contract through June 30, 2018. The Montclair resident and former  education commissioner has made making NPS fully autonomous his top  priority.

Their votes started the sunset of NJDOE's direct control of NPS's  operations that began July 1, 1995. The State Legislature voted and  then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman so signed for NJDOE's takeover of NPS.  They employed a 1987 law that allowed state education administrators to  overrule local or regional school boards. This law, approved during Gov.  Tom Kean's administration, would be also used for state takeover of  Jersey City, Paterson and Camden's public schools.

They were also responding to an April 13, 1995 report from  Administrative Law Judge Stephen G. Weiss who recommended NJDOE control  based on prior 10 years of state monitoring. Weiss also compared the  then-high $10,700 per pupil spending by NPS to the 25 percent passing  rate of 11th grade students who took the October 1993 state High School  Proficiency Assessment test battery.

"That's a description of failure on a very large scale," wrote Weiss in  his 56-page ruling. "If 'abysmal' is too strong a description, it most  certainly is distressing to contemplate." NPS then was teaching 47,000  students among its 82 buildings on a $540 million budget.

NPS reopened Sept. 11, 1995 with 10-year Superintendent Eugene C.  Campbell replaced by Whitman-appointee Beverly Hall. Another 12 key  administrators were replaced by those mostly from outside Newark.  Top-down implementation of programs became the norm.

Observers and experts back then, who thought a 2000 turnaround was  unrealistic, never imagined that the state would operate NPS for 22  years.

"Every couple of years, people would come in with a new teaching  program," recalled Mayor Ras Baraka while he was rising from teaching to  Central High School Principal. "Their programs were then replaced by  other new ones."

The DOE had been applying its Quality Single Accountability Continuum on  NPS several years before Christie appointed Cerf. QSAC set 80-percent  scoring thresholds on personnel, governance, fiscal management,  operations and program and instruction to turn those respective areas to  the school board. NPS most recently passed QSAC's personnel threshold -  the latest area after passing governance (100 percent), operations, (95  percent) fiscal management (92 percent) and program and instruction (92  percent).

Cerf and NPS Board President Marques-Aquil Lewis signed the personnel  autonomy transition plan during their board meeting here at the Elliott  Street School Auditorium Aug. 22.

"We got a letter from the DOE in July that we hit all the scores," said  Cerf. "Students are improving faster than their peers across the state."  

"This brings tears to my eyes," said Lewis. "We can now control our own  destiny. We were once the rejected stones; now we're the cornerstones."

Cerf recommended full NPS's full autonomy transition overnight to  Harrington. Harrington, on Aug. 23, then issued her autonomy  recommendations to the Christie-appointed NJSBOE.

"Graduation rates are now at 75 percent, a 16-point increase in six  years," said Christie while visiting NJIT Sept. 6. (Christie, who lived  across from West Side High School until 1970, graduated from Livingston  High School.)

Christie, Cerf and Baraka have also cited improving test scores, among other recent positive NPS trends, since Sept. 1.

NPS' state control era is an exception to Mayor Kenneth Gibson's quote  that "Wherever urban America goes, Newark will get there first."

The state returned local control to Jersey City's public schools July 1.  They first took over Jersey City in 1988 and Paterson in 1991.

Baraka and Cerf, in their Sept. 5 "First Day of School" visit to  Technology High School, noted that high student absenteeism and school  safety need improvement.

"Local control means that you're in charge now," said Baraka. "Stop  thinking about 'us versus them,' because 'us' is the 'them.'"

Newark Mayor Baraka, with Newark’s Board of Education Advisors, called a  press conference on Sept. 13, at Newark City Hall to announce the news  and celebrate regaining control of Newark’s Public Schools.  

Baraka said, “In our family, when there is a problem, we go to our  father and mother, not anyone else. We decide our own future…Getting  freedom means getting responsibility. We have to look at ourselves in  the mirror.”

State Senator Ronald Rice, State Senator Teresa Ruiz, Assemblyman Tom  Giblin, Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor,  Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield-Jenkins, and Councilman Eddie Osborne  were on hand to answer any questions.

Newark School Advisory Board president Marques-Aquil Lewis, Tev Padiah,  Reginald Bledsoe, Dashay Carter, Crystal C. Fonseca, Kim Gaddy,  Josephine Garcia, Flohisha Johnson, Leah Owens, and Student  Representative Gina Matos all were present at the press conference.  

The committee did excellent work to get back control to the local board,  and they really deserve the credit with Mayor Baraka in the forefront  as well as the background.