That big announcement we were waiting to hear on the Oprah show was that Mark Zuckerberg is planning to donate US$100 million to Newark City Public Schools. In addition, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is going to cede some control of Newark Public Schools to Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Here is the full story:
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, has agreed to donate $100 million to improve Newark’s long-troubled public schools, and Gov. Chris Christie will cede some control of the state-run system to Mayor Cory A. Booker in conjunction with the huge gift, officials said Wednesday night.The three men plan to announce the arrangement Friday on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
The changes would not formally relax the legal power the state seized in 1995, when it declared Newark’s schools a failure and took control of the system, replacing the elected school board with a mostly toothless advisory board. Rather, Mr. Christie plans to give the mayor a major role choosing a new superintendent and redesign the system but retain the right to yank it back.
For now, at least, the arrangement tightens an already-friendly relationship between the Republican governor and the Democratic mayor who was once seen as a likely challenger for the statehouse in 2013. It also promises to be a rare happy moment in a state beset by budget crises, scandals, political infighting and, most recently, the loss of a $400 million federal education grant because of a clerical error.
Mr. Zuckerberg, who grew up in Westchester County and now lives in California, has no particular connection to Newark, but in July he and Mr. Booker met at a conference and began a continuing conversation about the mayor’s plans for the city, according to people familiar with their relationship. Mr. Booker, an advocate of school choice, has been relentless about traveling the country, meeting business leaders and celebrities, proselytizing and raising money for Newark. Ms. Winfrey has been one of his biggest supporters, and in Mr. Booker arranged a $500,000 gift by her to the Robert Treat Academy, one of Newark’s many charter schools.
The $100 million for Newark is the initial gift to start a foundation for education funded by Mr. Zuckerberg. This would be by far the largest publicly known gift by Zuckerberg, whose fortune was estimated last year by Forbes magazine at $2 billion.
Mr. Booker, Mr. Christie and Mr. Zuckerberg all declined to be interviewed Wednesday. The officials who spoke about the plan did so on the condition of anonymity because it was two days before the scheduled announcement.
The gift is many times larger than any the system has received before, officials said — an extraordinary sum for a district with an $800 million annual operating budget, or really for any publicly funded government agency. But it is not yet clear how the money would be used, or over what period of time.
Despite 15 years of state control, Newark’s schools continue to have among the lowest test scores and graduation rates in the state.
Mr. Christie has said that he generally does not approve of state takeovers of local agencies, and he supported the elimination of state oversight of the city of Camden early this year. But he had given no sign of backing away from control of Newark’s schools.
Less than a month ago, the governor informed the city’s schools superintendent, Clifford Janey, that he would not be rehired, and that the state was looking for a replacement. There has been speculation in Trenton about the possibility of hiring Michelle A. Rhee, the hard-charging Washington, D.C., schools chief, whose political patron, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, recently lost his bid for re-election.
Officials said the governor plans to announce that he and Mr. Booker will jointly select a new superintendent, a decision that Mr. Christie could easily make on his own. And he will instruct the mayor to come up with a reform plan for the system: in effect, asking Mr. Booker to redesign it.
“We can’t speculate too much at this point about what the specifics would be,” said a person briefed on the plans. But on issues like expansion of charter schools, rigorous testing, and rewarding teachers and administrators whose students succeed, this person said, “their vision is very much in step.”
Under Mr. Christie, the state has rewarded schools that made aggressive changes, like awarding grants to a group of Newark high schools that replaced half their staffs.
The announcements could win points for Mr. Christie with local officials and school advocates who have chafed under state control, and take some of the sting of his cuts to state aid for schools. It also ties him more closely to a popular Democrat in a state that usually favors Democrats. But the gambit could damage his alliance with the mayor if, in the end, their visions do not match.
It also puts Mr. Booker on a hot seat not occupied by his predecessors, who had little overt influence over the schools. The mayor has said many times that he wanted the state to cede control, but critics have charged that he did little to make that happen. If his reform plan fails to transform the system, it could deal a blow to his reputation.