It’s a sad state of affairs in the city of Newark, New Jersey’s public schools. In a well publicized donation, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the city’s struggling school system which has a graduation rate of 67 percent. But it turns out that the money was mismanaged and did not trickle down to the schools and individual students as expected. Instead, it lined the pockets of consultants and firms who were being paid as much as $1,000 a day with no accountability or proof of work. In a two year time period from 2010-2012, more than $20 million went to consulting firms according to New Yorker magazine.
The question becomes, who is at fault for the mismanagement of the now nearly expended $100 million donation? Some fault Mark Zuckerberg for throwing money at a problem but having no experience or training in education or oversight of the largest single donation in the city’s history. Others say the fault lies squarely at the feet of now Senator Cory Booker, who as Mayor of Newark helped to broker the entire deal. The former mayor’s tenure in Newark has been very controversial, filled with scandals also dealing with the use of consultants by the city over other funds.
Although Booker hired a new school superintendent at the urging of Zuckerberg, it did little to solve the real underlying issues facing the Newark school system; the social and emotional issues of the students. Newark is a major city with big city issues of crime, lack of resources and extreme poverty, and the children of the city bring these same issues to school with them every day. The New Yorker magazine, in a 12 page story, indicated that the “city spends more money per student than most districts in the entire country, none of which was reaching the children it existed to help.”
In response to the social issues of the students, the new superintendent, Cami Anderson came up with a program called “One Newark.” The key feature of the program would allow parents to choose what schools they wanted to send their children to. In the program, kids who suffered from special needs or came from a low income household would have first choice. But the plan was never implemented and let down thousands of children across the city. The “One Newark” plan was purely an idea on paper that was put into action with no programs in place. Vivian Cox Fraser, the president of the Urban League of Essex County, New Jersey is quoted as saying “Everybody’s getting paid but Raheem still can’t read.” All the city of Newark can do now is wait on another philanthropist to help the city’s struggling schools and students.