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CBS 2 Exclusive: Booker Defends Use Of Money Given To Newark Schools By Facebook CEO

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NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — U.S. Sen. and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker has been receiving a lot of criticism on how a $100 million donation to the Newark Public Schools, by Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg, is being spent.

On Friday, Booker spoke out on the issue for the first time, to CBS 2’s Christine Sloan.

Zuckerberg agreed to donate the money in September 2010 to help the district, plagued by low graduation rates.

He announced the donation at a news conference while flanked by Gov. Chris Christie and then-Mayor Booker.

Booker responded Friday to critics who have complained about how the money was spent.

“Here’s a city that got a tremendous amount of resources that but for those efforts, we wouldn’t be a lot of those things happening in our schools,” Booker said.

The money went directly to the Foundation for Newark’s Future, which was put in charge of distributing the funds.

The foundation told CBS 2 most of the $100 million has either been committed or spent. Most of the funds have been committed to educational programs, but a huge chunk — $48 million – went to a teacher’s contract that gives bonuses to the most effective teachers.

Booker defended that decision.

“In a school, the biggest difference for a child’s excellence will be the quality of teacher in that classroom,” Booker said.

On Thursday, some parents of Newark schoolchildren criticized the distribution of funds, saying their kids have no books. The former mayor said the criticism is unfair.

“I know the families who have gotten the home libraries,” Booker said. “I know the school that got the tablets for autistic kids.”

Community activists made other accusations, that money went to consultants who are friends with Booker.

“First of all, that’s not true,” Booker said.

But Booker did admit that consultants got money.

“Before you make such large expenditures — before you put 90 percent of the money out there — let’s take 5, 10 percent, or something like that, and make sure we’re doing it right,” Booker said.

CBS 2 asked two educators and a political analyst to look over the plan online. They liked the programs, and said hiring consultants was the right thing to do. So was giving teachers the contract with incentives, the experts said.

“That was an extra ordinary deal, because you had teachers who agreeing to something they swore they would never agree to,” said Peter Woolley of Fairleigh Dickinson University.

“It’s always hard for people to see the immediate effects of any educational change,” said educator Randall Westbrook.

“My question is, how are they measuring performance?” said Dan Aronoff, deputy director of the School of Education at Fairleigh Dickinson.

Booker said despite his critics, he is going to try to get private donations for other urban schools now as U.S. senator.

The donation to the school by Zuckerberg was just a small portion of the district’s budget. Others matched the donation with another $100 million.

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