Other People's Children: The Battle for Justice and Equality in New Jersey's Schools

By Deborah Yaffe | Go to book overview

9
A Constitutional Right
to Astroturf

Marilyn Morheuser’s last terrible year had wreaked havoc on the Education Law Center. Its staff was decimated, its finances were a shambles, and its case was approaching another critical juncture: the courtordered deadline for a new school-funding law was less than a year away. Despite her faults, Morheuser had been an extraordinary leader for ELC— dedicated, courageous, and profoundly committed to children. Even under ideal circumstances, replacing her would have been difficult, and ELC’s circumstances were far from ideal. The new executive director would have to accept months of job insecurity while wooing funders, rebuilding the organization, and mastering the complex Abbott litigation. The board feared no one would want the job. It was serendipity, ELC founder Paul Tractenberg reflected years later, that a few weeks after Morheuser’s death, they found the right person.

David Sciarra was another lapsed Catholic with a fierce sense of mission, but in other respects he was no Morheuser replica. Morheuser had been a child of the Depression, a midwesterner from a middle-class home, an activist who turned to the law in her forties and married herself to her cause. Sciarra was nearly thirty years younger, a blue-collar Jersey kid who went to law school soon after college and found time for family life. Morheuser’s charisma, commitment, and unusual life story had made her a compelling public figure, equal parts grandmotherly former nun and relentless crusader, a burnished icon of righteousness. Sciarra shared her passion for social justice and her tenacity in legal battle, but he cut a more familiar figure: the lawyer with a cause that engaged but did not

-249-

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Other People's Children: The Battle for Justice and Equality in New Jersey's Schools
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface and Acknowledgments ix
  • The Plaintiffs and Their Families xiii
  • Introduction- The Inheritance 1
  • Part One - The Beginning Robinson V. Cahill, 1970–1976 7
  • 1 - Jersey City''s Tax War 9
  • 2 - Celebrating the Bicentennial 31
  • Part Two - The Crusade Abbott V. Burke, 1979–1998 57
  • 3 - The True Believer 59
  • 4 - Son of Robinson 86
  • 5 - The Families 110
  • 6 - "the System Is Broken" 145
  • 7 - The Twenty-One/Forty-One Rule 176
  • 8 - The Children of Abbott 214
  • 9 - A Constitutional Right to Astroturf 249
  • Part Three - The Never-Ending Story Implementing Abbott, 1998–2006 279
  • 10 - "We Do Not Run School Systems" 281
  • 11 - The Children Grow Up 304
  • Conclusion - Other People''s Children 322
  • Notes 335
  • Works Cited 351
  • Index 363
  • About the Author 371
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