Newark Public Schools officials have submitted a district improvement plan (DIP) to the state Department of Education, marking a critical step toward re-establishing local control of the school district. The submission comes on the heels of a presentation by former Commissioner of Education, now Newark Superintendent, Chris Cerf.
The plan outlines strategies for improving marks on the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) report, which the state uses to evaluate school districts. Those strategies are focused on the areas of governance, personnel and instruction/program, the district said in a news release. The state has 30 days to review and approve the plan. The state also is expected to conduct an interim assessment of the district next spring. The submission came a day prior to Cerf’s presentation to the State Board.
Monthly Presentation to State Board
Cerf’s appearance, dubbed ‘Annual’, although he is required to appear before the Board on a monthly basis as a requirement of his appointment as Superintendent, included an overview of district progress, including information on Newark’s ongoing budgetary shortfall as well as academic success. Cerf offered state officials an optimistic take on Newark schools’ progress, though he said the district continues to suffer from insufficient funding amid a steady influx of new students.
Cerf outlined how he has driven down the district’s budget deficit of $63 million when he arrived, to its current level of approximately $12 million. Cerf also shared how the district continues to grow (to the tune of 4,500 additional children) all while state funding has remained flat.
The State funding formula has been underfunded for all districts for a number of years in light of dwindling state revenues. For the 2015-16 school year, Newark was slated to receive $715,271,519, according to Department of Education data – about $131 million less than the formula requires.
According to Cerf, the impact of flat funding is further compounded by a provision inserted into this year’s budget that slightly eased per-pupil cuts to Newark charters in order to avoid potentially “catastrophic” effects on their ability to operate. That measure, he said, puts further stress on traditional public schools.
Cerf also cited a number of statistics that he said show significant progress in the schools, in order to counter what he has repeatedly called a “pervasive narrative of negativity.”
Among these were: an increased graduation rate (up from 56% in 2011 to 70%); an uptick in the number of students successfully passing the HSPA (up 22%); as well as a sharp decrease (37%) in the suspension rate.
“There’s an awful lot of good things happening. I hope our friends in the media will start to take a more balanced view,” he said.