New Yorker: Zuckerberg's Donation to NJ Schools Wasted

Tuesday, 13 May 2014 03:32 PM

By John A. Oswald

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It was 2010 and there, on Oprah, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a stunning donation to the troubled public school system of Newark, N.J.

"One hundred million dollars," Oprah announced in the same booming voice she used to  give away cars to her studio audience.

But four years later, it turns out the gift so proudly praised by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and then-Newark Mayor (now U.S. Sen.) Cory Booker has largely been squandered.

A damning report in The New Yorker reveals that more than $20 million of the donation and matching gifts went to big bucks consultants in public relations, teacher evaluation, and data analysis. And student performance has barely budged.

The average pay was $1,000 a day for each consultant.

"Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read," Essex County, NJ, Urban League President Vivian Cox Fraser told the magazine.

A lot of those getting paid had worked for former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Teach for America, and other programs in the school reform movement, the New Yorker details.

Booker was to raise matching funds to Zuckerberg’s gift. And he was supposed to sell the whole plan to Newark’s families. He failed.

Zuckerberg’s money poured into the Foundation for Newark’s Future, which included Booker and the deep-pocket philanthropists he was tapping. But it took two years to set up a community advisory board.

Still, Tusk Strategies, a New York firm run by Bradley Tusk, who managed Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 re-election campaign, got paid $1.3 million to get the community involved.

Some blame Booker’s rock star ambition instead of an eye to detail for the bungling. Booker was elected to the U.S. Senate last year.

Newark’s murder rate was through the roof, the city’s budget was in shambles, and cops were being laid off. And still Booker was traveling the country making more than $1.3 million from speeches between 2008 and 2013.

"There’s no such thing as a rock star mayor," Rutgers historian Clement Price told the New Yorker. "You can be a rock star or you can be a mayor. You can’t be both."

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