NEWARK, N.J. – Newark Public Schools may be in an academic and financial shambles, but that isn’t stopping school leaders from letting the good times roll.
NBC New York reports the district spent $330,000 on take-out food over a 15-month span – despite a $42 million budget deficit that’s led to teacher layoffs, textbook shortages and depleted classroom supply closets.
“We sit in classrooms where there aren’t enough desks to fill every student,” student Khadija Bhatti told NBC New York. “We don’t have adequate supplies of paper and necessary supplies to supplement us throughout the day and then there’s money being spent on arbitrary things such as catering and food.”
Parent Fernanda Narvaez offered this to-the-point assessment: “This is really outrageous. It’s bad.”
The beleaguered district has been under state control since 1995. Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent of Newark schools, refused to address the lavish food expenditures with the news station.
Vanessa Rodriguez, the district’s chief talent officer, defended the practice – which averages $22,000 a month – by saying the district uses catered meals and take-out food as a way of celebrating students’ success.
“We are focused on ensuring that we have events that really celebrate the successes, and that include our families,” Rodriguez told NBC New York.
Celebrations are nice, but taxpayers are probably wondering why they have to include a catered meal.
Rodriguez also pointed out that the teachers’ contract requires school principals to provide meals for teachers during parent-teacher conferences.
Newark Teachers Union President Joseph Del Grosso pooh-poohed that explanation by saying most principals don’t make good on that requirement. He also noted that the conferences only occur twice a year, and would only account for a fraction of the overall take-out expenses.
Del Grosso added that the hefty food bills will be viewed as an “outrage” by New Jersey taxpayers.
The wisest comment about the take-out controversy was made by Lauren Williams, who has worked as a teacher in Newark’s evening school for adults.
“If we’re really at this funding crisis, then we’re not really making best use of the funding we do have,” Williams said.
With such common sense, perhaps Williams should be the one running the district.