NEWARK --A day after hundreds of parents were turned away from registering their children for school, the mayor of New Jersey's largest city said Friday that he is deeply concerned about the state-controlled district's new enrollment procedures.
More than 600 Newark parents turned out to register their children Thursday, but the district said it was unable to get to about half of them because of "operational challenges."
"You cannot tell parents a week or so before school starts that they do not have a school location for their child, when if this plan did not exist, parents could have walked to any school in their neighborhood and registered their child on their own," said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, the former principal of Newark's Central High School who took office in July.
The district apologized to the parents it turned away and said it would work longer hours Friday and Saturday and tripled its staff to help parents that still need to register "as quickly as possible." The district said that it served more than 700 families Friday.
Rather than allowing parents to select the school closest to their home, the new enrollment model lets them research schools and rank their preferences for public or charter schools across the city. The new enrollment plan is part of the "One Newark" plan that seeks to improve education in the beleaguered district.
Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson apologized for the inconvenience in a statement on Friday.
"The number of families requesting new school placements is indicative of what we already know to be true: that family demand for quality school options far exceeds the number of quality seats we have available today," Anderson said.
Baraka called on Gov. Chris Christie to intervene to address concerns about the One Newark plan, which Baraka and some parent activists have complained was done without properly consulting them.
Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, referred questions to the department of education and the district. A spokesman for the department of education wasn't immediately available to comment.
Newark's schools were brought under state control in 1995 following years of mismanagement, chronically low test scores and crumbling infrastructure in the city of 280,000, where the median household income is less than half the state's average.
The district says the One Newark plan aims to guarantee that all students in the district attend high-performing schools, using the same standards for public and charter schools. The plan is one part of the education reforms financed through a $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.