Newark Mayor Cory Booker Thursday provided his most detailed accounting yet of private donations made to bolster reform efforts in the state’s largest school district.
There is $25 million from a New York investor, $10 million from a venture capitalist, $5 million from a team of husband-and-wife bankers and $3 million from one of the world’s most prominent philanthropists.
The disclosure comes amid a week of questions about just how much Booker has raised to match Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to the city schools, what the money is being used for and in what amounts.
It also comes days after revelations of acting state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf’s relationship with a consulting firm hired by Booker to audit Newark schools. The firm, Global Education Advisors, produced a controversial plan to close or consolidate low-performing, under-enrolled schools and provide space for charter and new high schools.
"There is no hiding going on here with the Zuckerberg grant/Match," Booker wrote in an e-mail.
Ah, but there is LOTS of hiding going on, Mayor Booker.
You still won't say who in your administration gave the go ahead to hire an education reform company started just a few months back by newly appointed New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and STILL run out of his Montclair, New Jersey house to lead an audit of Newark's schools.
You kept other officials in the Newark education establishment in the dark about these plans so that they didn't realize who was running the audit until they actually met with someone from the group.
And of course you keep saying you have sought public opinion on these plans and gotten consensus even as the announcement that you plan to close schools and replace them with charters - a plan that will DIRECTLY benefit Global Education Advisors, the group that created the plan - has inspired community outrage and anger.
Why not just be open about all of this and say "Listen, I don't give a shit what anybody thinks. I'm going ahead with what my corporate overlords who dole out my money want me to do."
Because that's essentially what you're doing, only you don't have the guts to be open about it.
Here's more from the Newark Star Ledger on just who those overlords are and how they allow Booker to run a shadow government in Newark that operates in secret, subverts the will of the people and enriches the corporate donors to Booker's coffers:
The potential influx of hundreds of millions of dollars into Newark’s public schools has political and education leaders calling for greater oversight of the donations and how they are spent.
"I know the mayor’s heart is in the right place, but the need for greater transparency should be obvious" Assembly Education Committee Chairman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) said.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), who sits on the committee that will rule on Cerf’s nomination, said the growing trend of private dollars being spent on public schools will likely require new legislation to govern its use.
"We’re seeing a whole new cottage industry growing in the operation of quasi-public schools," Weinberg said.
"If you want to deal in the public arena, then I’m not sure you can expect anonymity."
Weinberg said she has been dealing with similar issues in gaining disclosure from private for-profit hospitals and parallels with education donations, specifically for charter schools.
"We have to find out who’s spending the money and are they getting any return on their investment other than better students," Weinberg said.
Of the $43 million raised so far, the donations came from:
• $25 million from New York investor William Ackman, head of the Pershing Square Foundation.
• $10 million from venture capitalist John Doerr, a founder of the NewSchools Venture Fund.
• $5 million from Elizabeth and Ravenel Curry, founders of the New York investment firm Eagle Capital Management.
• $3 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
So what's the problem with all of this "free" billionaire philanthropy coming into Newark? Plenty:
Rutgers School of Law-Newark professor Paul Tractenberg said he’s not aware of any state laws that require public officials like Booker to be more forthcoming about donations made to the cities they represent and said the average citizen is not aware of how many private dollars are at work in the public sector. But the lack of a statute is not an excuse for Booker to operate a "shadow government," he said.
"We have a bunch of private people having tremendous influence over education policy, and exercising that influence through public officials, in this case Booker," Tractenberg said. "It’s this notion of ‘I don’t have to act like an elected official, I can act like a private power broker’ and there’s something that really smells about that."
Booker said sending private money to public schools is nothing new, citing districts in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
"There have been millions and millions of private dollars flowing into our public school system over the last decade and years before," Booker said, noting "tremendous investments by private individuals as well as corporate foundations who have been seeking to help our children and NPS leadership in their efforts."
Former Newark Superintendent Marion Bolden said Booker’s use of foundation money to shape education policy is unlawful because he has no authority over the district. Newark has been under state control for the past 15 years and only a citywide vote could return decision-making power to the mayor or the board of education.
"The mayor has no legal role in running the schools, and yet he is acting as if has direct control of the schools," said Bolden, whose contract with the state ended in 2008.
"He would need a referendum in order to take control of the schools but he is bypassing that, pretending he doesn’t need one."
Bolden, who has criticized Booker in the past, said the lack of transparency surrounding Booker’s use of donations like those from the Gates and other foundations disenfranchises Newark residents.
She also predicted that community groups would seek a court order to prevent Booker from meddling in the schools.
Robert Curvin, a prominent education and civil rights leader, said this influx of money represents a growing national trend, but the sheer magnitude of donations in Newark is causing alarm.
"You generally have not had private money take over an entire public sector and that is what is very different here," Curvin said.
As the economy becomes more global, American students are struggling to keep up, Curvin said, which is driving private investment in schools. "Given the nature of globalization there’s thoroughly a sense of nervousness about America’s place in the global marketplace and education is the place where that nervousness is most manifested."
But according to Curvin and others, Booker’s recent handling of events, including a the secret plan to phase out numerous schools, is harming reform efforts in Newark.
"I think it’s a manifestation of a total lack of understanding of urban life," Curvin said.
"If this is the man who says he’s going to set a new standard for urban transformation he has, in my view, shown a lack of understanding of what urban transformation is."
Booker is looking to transform Newark all right - right into a feudal playground owned by the corporate overlords with a corporate school system to train obedient workers and shoppers to do just as the overlords want - WORK, SHOP, OBEY - even as the overlords devour more and more of the power, influence, real estate and wealth until Newark the city and America the country become little more than a quasi-democracy in name but a feudal corporate state in practice.
The corporate overlords need friendly faces to do this work and make no mistake, they like to have people of color like Obama, Booker, Fenty, and Patrick to do this stuff.
It looks better than if you have a bunch of white rich guys like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, the Koch Brothers, the Walton Family and most of the financial industry doing this out front.
But make no mistake, Obama, Booker, Fenty and Patrick are just the face of the neo-urban colonialism we are seeing in places like Newark.
They are operating at the behest of the rich white guys behind them who fund them.
Booker is a crook on the take, operating in the shadows to hand over power and real estate to the corporate interests.