Newark seeks emergency school aid; Supt. León may get a contract extension

Welcome to Chalkbeat Newark's weekly newsletter! Today, read about Newark’s request for an extra $37 million in state funding, a contract extension for Superintendent León, and much more.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot going on in Newark Public Schools this week. Newark teachers are voting today on a new contract. On Tuesday, the Newark school board will hold its first general meeting of the 2019-20 school year, where it’s expected to vote on the contract. 

And, of course, everyone will be working hard to get ready for the first day of school next week!

— Patrick Wall, senior reporter

The big story

Roger Leon state budget hearing

A shortage of state funds has forced the Newark school district to make some painful cuts — including eliminating teaching positions and postponing school repairs.

Superintendent Roger León described the cuts in a letter to the state this month, when he asked for nearly $37 million in emergency state aid.

León said the funding shortfall forced the district to: Eliminate 17 teaching positions. Put new teaching materials on hold. And delay number of school repairs — including fire alarm installations and asbestos removal.

The “district was forced to make $12.7 million in cuts in order to balance the budget and avoid hundreds of layoffs,” he wrote.

However, León downplayed the letter at a boarding meeting Saturday (after our story was published). 

“The request for emergency aid was never because we were in an emergency,” he told the board, adding that the state education commissioner had invited districts that need it to apply for the emergency money.

Now, the question is whether the state will grant Newark’s request.

It’s unlikely Newark will get the full amount it asked for — the state legislature has approved a total of $20 million in emergency aid this year, which will be divvied up among multiple districts.

Read the full story.

What to watch

What else is happening around Newark schools.

One year after naming León superintendent, Newark school board may extend his contract

  • What to know: Just one year into León’s three-year term, the Newark school board is considering extending his contract for an additional two years.
  • The proposal was floated at a sparsely attended public hearing last week that was not advertised on the district website.
  • Sources said that León had originally asked for a five-year contract when he was selected as superintendent in 2018.
  • A contract extension would amount to a major vote of confidence in León’s leadership, even as he just gets started putting his plans into action.
  • The board could vote on the extension as soon as its meeting Tuesday.
  • One big question: If the board approves it, will members explain why they decided on an early extension? 

Newark news & events

Local education reporting and upcoming events.

Charter ‘transformation’…

  • One of Newark’s oldest charter school networks is getting a major overhaul — led by a former Newark Public Schools official. Chalkbeat Newark
  • The network, Marion P. Thomas Charter Schools, is also getting new management: the BRICK Education Network. TAPinto Newark

Clean water….

  • Despite the city’s lead crisis, Superintendent León is assuring parents that schools’ water will be safe to drink when students return to class. TAPinto Newark 

Halal lunches…

  • Newark plans to start providing halal lunch options this upcoming school year. TAPinto Newark

“Lights On”…

  • West Side High School’s highly praised after-school program will continue despite a recent shooting outside of the school. Patch

Amistad curriculum…

  • Newark activists are urging the public to call state officials and demand that funding be restored to train teachers on African-American history. TAPinto Newark

Band competition…

  • The Weequahic High School marching band was honored by a local organization for winning a national band competition. TAPinto Newark

NPS events…

  • District staffers will meet for a convocation Tuesday, during which time enrollment services will be unavailable.
  • This month’s regular school board meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the district headquarters.
  • Students can get free backpacks and school supplies at a back-to-school rally Thursday at Newark Schools Stadium.

News from Trenton & beyond

Reporting on statewide education issues that matter for Newark. 

School funding…

  • Here are the 25 N.J. school districts that spend the most money per student (Newark isn’t one of them). NJ.com

Teacher pay…

  • In New Jersey, teacher salaries can vary widely between districts within the same counties. Asbury Park Press

N.J. ‘Dreamers’…

  • The state awarded $3.8 million in financial aid to undocumented college students last year. The top two colleges they attended — Rutgers and NJIT — have campuses in Newark. NJ.com

STEM grants…

  • A new state law will give grants to teachers in public school districts to go into private schools to teach science, technology, engineering and math. Asbury Park Press

Extra credit

Want to showcase your school or an upcoming education event? Send me photos and details.

Newark Back-to-School Rally

More info here.