On School Board Election Day in Newark, Charter School ‘Wars’ Are a Nothing-Burger

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Tuesday was Election Day in Newark for the district’s Board of Education. Among seven candidates for three open seats, winners were incumbents A’Dorian Murray-Thomas and Daniel Gonzalez, and newcomer Crystal Williams. The other candidates were Tommy Luna, Maggie Freeman, Phillip Wilson, and Allison K. James-Frison. Eighty-percent of voters approved the district’s $138 million tax levy for school year 2022-2023.

Murray-Thomas, Gonzalez, and Williams, who each received more than twice as many votes as other contenders, ran on a slate called “Moving Newark Schools Forward.” This “unity slate” was jointly endorsed by Mayor Ras Baraka, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, Jr., Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, Sen. Ron Rice, Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, and the city’s public charter school advocates.

In fact, this is the seventh straight year that the unity slate has triumphed. If you’re sick of the charter school wars, consider Newark your salve: While Newark Superintendent Roger León appears to be on a crusade to shut down charter expansion in a city where almost 40% of public school students are enrolled there by their parents, in the context of school board elections he’s a lonely hunter, albeit one supported in his quest by Gov. Murphy and his Department of Education. 

Here, the voices of parents and residents drown out top-down divisiveness. As campaign manager Sam Gonzalez, said, “the important thing is that after this, whoever wins or loses, everybody can come together and make sure that kids in Newark are put first.”

How do Newark voters feel about charter school advocates? Over the last seven years, since the birth of the unity slate, 13 of 22 school board members have either had a child in a public charter (many had children in both charter schools and traditional district schools)  or graduated from a charter themselves. In other words, 60% of school board seats have been won by Newarkers with personal charter school experience. 

Among this year’s winners, A’Dorian Murray-Thomas is a graduate of KIPP’s TEAM middle school and Crystal Williams has three children who attend North Star Academy, an Uncommon School. 

This school board election can be seen as a harbinger for Mayor Baraka’s re-election campaign along with his allies on City Council, all who are  running on the municipal Moving Newark Forward slate. Election Day is May 10th.

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