Lawmakers criticize Newark schools chief over management; senator calls for her to step down



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TRENTON, New Jersey — State lawmakers unleashed heated criticism on the head of the state's largest school district Tuesday, blasting her management style and plans to overhaul the district.

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson outlined her "One Newark" plan during a hearing before the joint public schools panel. Her plan envisions universal enrollment, budget cuts and an agenda for maintaining school assets.

After the session, Democratic state Sen. Ron Rice called on Anderson to step down. Rice, a former Newark City Councilman, said it took Anderson a year to meet with the committee. He said he plans to seek subpoena power if she doesn't reply in writing to lawmakers' questions about how the schools are run.

Rice and other lawmakers sought information at the hearing about how much money school district consultants earn and where that money comes from, among other things.

He also suggested that Anderson had lost the confidence of the community, adding: "You cannot lead when the troops have given up on you. You can't go into a battleground — a jungle — and ask people to follow you."

Anderson pledged to reply to lawmakers and said after the hearing that she appreciated hearing their thoughts.

"I thought it was a good, frank exchange of views," she said. "And I really do appreciate the feedback."

One of the plan's components — universal enrollment — would no longer force students to attend their neighborhood schools and instead would allow parents to rank which school they want their children to attend. The selection is then made by an algorithm, Anderson said.

The change has angered parents and educational advocates because not all students are able to attend the district's best schools and because some pupils have difficulty reaching far-flung schools.

Donna Jackson, a lifelong Newark resident and grandparent of a Newark schools pupil, interrupted Anderson's testimony, calling her a liar before Rice asked her to leave the hearing. Jackson disputed Anderson's assertion that 92 percent of students had been matched to schools among their top choices.

Education Commissioner David Hespe, who attended the hearing with Anderson, told The Associated Press late last year that Anderson still has the support of Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration.

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