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On Verge of Takeover, Newark Rebuts Critical State Analysis

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Taking an aggressive stance against efforts by the state of New Jersey to seize control of their school district, Newark officials last week released a point-by-point rebuttal of a sharply critical analysis of the district issued by the state education department in May.

The state's "external review'' led Commissioner of Education Mary Lee Fitzgerald to order a comprehensive compliance investigation--the last step in the lengthy process by which the state could take over the largest district in New Jersey. (See Education Week, May 19, 1993.)

The state review portrayed a district in which politics, safe employment, and the pursuit of outside funding took precedence over the education of children.

But Newark's 300-page "discrepancy analysis,'' by contrast, takes the state's external review to task for vagueness, inaccuracy, and minimization of district successes.

The district's analysis also asserts that the state signed off over the years on many of the practices for which the district was faulted.

Citing criticism of its bilingual program, for example, Newark notes that the education department had approved the program for the past 21 years.

The analysis paints a picture of an urban district that has continued to strive to improve its educational program with limited financial means.

While it disputes the state evaluation team's observations of didactic teaching methods and lower-order tasks for students, the district analysis concedes that there may have been some inappropriate instruction. But it points out that the state team observed only a fraction of the district's classrooms.

When it does agree, the analysis often indicates that district officials have already taken steps to comply with a directive or intend to address the problem.

Incident Shows Rising Tensions

State officials expressed disappointment with the district's action. "Dr. [Elena] Scambio felt that it was unfortunate that Newark chose to devote the time and resources to that task rather than cooperate with the [state] investigation,'' said Elizabeth A. Whittle, a spokeswoman for Ms. Scambio, the assistant commissioner for urban districts.

The tension between state and district officials escalated last month when Hilda Hidalgo, an assistant commissioner, was arrested and removed from an elementary school.

The principal of the school called Newark police when a confrontation arose between state and local officials over the presence of journalists.

Police handcuffed Ms. Hidalgo and dragged her out of the building, Ms. Whittle said. The 65-year-old official, who suffered a hairline fracture to her wrist, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Newark officials blamed the melee on state officials for inviting the media on the inspection visit.

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