Camden schools now in state's hands

Posted: May 03, 2013

With the region's attention focused on the looming county takeover of policing in Camden, another major city institution slipped relatively quietly from local control Tuesday night.

Just before midnight, the Camden Board of Education voted to endorse a state takeover of the school district, saying it was in the "best interest of the children."

The vote came at the end of an almost five-hour-long meeting, which was consumed primarily by teachers and administrators arguing against the planned elimination of more than 110 positions within the district.

The discussion and ultimate decision consenting to the state's order came in a closed session at the start of the board meeting. Once the resolution was brought up for a public vote close to midnight, board members Sean Brown and Ray Lamboy voted against the measure.

In March, Gov. Christie and state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf came to Camden to announce the state's decision to take over the district, the worst-performing in the state.

The state moved quickly, filing an "order to show cause" March 25 spelling out the reasons for taking over the district. The district had the right to appeal. The state in particular criticized the school board for offering a "district improvement plan" that it said did not conform to state requirements.

In voting to accept the state intervention, the board waived its right to a hearing before an Office of Administrative Law judge.

The matter now goes before the state Board of Education. If approved by the board, as expected, Camden will become the fourth district under state control, after Paterson, Newark, and Jersey City.

On Wednesday, as the governor visited Camden, his administration signed off on a shared-services agreement among the state, county, and city under which the city will be patrolled by a new county-run force that replaced the nearly 184-year-old city police department.

People aren't going to move into Camden and pay taxes "unless we do two things: make the streets safe and we make the schools good," he said.

"Steps we are taking here today with the Camden school system and now police force are all designed to try to reach" the goal of having taxpaying residents and businesses move to Camden and increase its tax base while reducing state aid, Christie said. "If we hadn't taken these steps, we wouldn't have hope; now we have hope."

Under the state's intervention plan, the local board of education will be reduced to an advisory role. A new state-appointed superintendent will assume the powers of the local board and will answer directly to the education commissioner.

Lamboy, who along with Brown was not reappointed by Mayor Dana L. Redd to the board, departed Tuesday night with emotional parting remarks.

"I agree that the School District of Camden is broken. I agree that it is failing our children and our families. I agree that drastic action is needed," Lamboy said. "The question is whether we will have open, honest, and spirited discussion as we struggle to find answers that work."

Brown and Lamboy were sharp critics of the district administration and of the state Department of Education, and both voted against the resolution accepting the state takeover.

In his farewell speech, Brown said that despite controversies and public opposition, many steps were taken to ensure that Renaissance schools came to Camden. Renaissance schools - similar to charters but under fewer regulations and with better funding - were created through the Urban Hope Act, which Christie signed into law last year.

The Camden board has already approved one Renaissance school to open in the fall of 2014. The state takeover is expected to accelerate the approvals process for other Renaissance projects.

"Now imagine how our state would be if the governor put that same energy into expanding affordable housing or increasing the minimum wage," Brown said.


Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917, cvargas@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," at www.philly.com/camden_flow

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|