Newark School Reform Efforts Stalled in Dispute

More than three years after Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to remake the in Newark, New Jersey, the district is embroiled in a dispute over proposed teacher layoffs that threaten to derail wider reform efforts, the reports.

To date, $48.5 million of the $100 million pledged by Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have been invested in a 2012 teacher contract that opens the door for peer review of teachers and merit pay. While the contract was hailed at the time as an example of school officials and teachers unions joining forces to rebuild a struggling urban district, implementation of the contract has stalled due to a fight between Superintendent Cami Anderson and the unions, including a dispute over emphasizing teacher performance in layoffs. Anderson's request for a waiver allowing her to circumvent state tenure rules and make layoffs based on a teacher's performance rating and years of service has provoked the ire of local teachers' unions as well as Randi Weingarten, who heads the .

According to  the district, about 30 percent of Newark's thirty-two hundred teachers need to be laid off over the next three years to close a projected $100 million budget gap, while new teachers need to be hired in hard-to-staff areas. "[Newark's school district] must address its fiscal crisis while increasing teacher quality," Anderson wrote in the waiver request. "The only way to do this is to be granted an equivalency to right-size with quality alongside years of service in order to remain competitive and offer quality schooling options for all Newark families." Anderson and her team have argued that the state tenure law process is costly and lengthy to arbitrate and cannot be executed fast enough to keep pace with the growing financial crisis in the low-performing district.

Union officials, some state lawmakers, and hundreds of parents have criticized Anderson's  request as the latest example of the superintendent trying to implement changes without community input while disregarding a contract she once endorsed.

Kimberly Baxter McLain, who heads the that administers the gift from the Zuckerbergs, told the AP she is satisfied with how things are going. About $80 million of the challenge grant has been invested to date, she added, including the $48.5 million for the teacher contract. "Overall, [while] people may disagree on how we get there," said McLain, "I think people are supportive of the same vision, which is that every school is made excellent for our children."

"." Associated Press 03/08/2014.