In a rancorous mayoral campaign that often revolved around the future of public schooling in New Jersey's biggest city, Newark voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly favored city councilor and former high school principal Ras Baraka over Shavar Jeffries, a civil rights lawyer who chaired the city's school advisory committee.
Baraka, who won decidedly with 54 percent of the vote over Jeffries' 46 percent, was heavily backed by labor unions, including the local teachers' union and its parent, the American Federation of Teachers.
Jeffries, who is a founder of a high-performing charter school in Newark, drew strong support from a deep-pocketed array of wealthy education philanthropists who have already been pushing for certain education reforms to be adopted in the city's long-struggling public schools.
While the Newark mayor has no control over the city's school system—the district has long been run by the state of New Jersey—Baraka's election no doubt will be viewed as a repudiation of former Mayor Cory Booker and his aggressive push to overhaul the schools through the expansion of charters and forcing rule changes to make it harder for ineffective teachers to keep their jobs. Booker left the mayor's office several months ago after winning election to the U.S. Senate.
And though Jeffries has been critical of Newark's state-appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson, Baraka's election will also be viewed as a strong statement from local voters on their disapproval of the schools chief and her controversial One Newark plan that proposes a massive reorganization of the school district through closures and mergers of existing schools and inviting more charter schools to operate in regular public school buildings.
Booker, as is well known, convinced Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to donate $100 million to help him and Gov. Chris Christie turn around the 38,000-student school system that has lost thousands of students in recent years to higher-performing charters. A brand-new New Yorker piece on the Zuckerberg investment in Newark's schools reveals that Booker's plans and stewardship of the money have fallen short of bringing about any notable improvements to the quality of schooling or to student achievement in Newark.