Camden charter seeks Council help fighting closure

Posted: March 13, 2014

CAMDEN More than 100 teachers, students, and parents from a charter school ordered to close by the state packed City Hall on Tuesday night asking City Council members for help and support.

D.U.E. Season Charter School, founded in 2005 in the Liberty Park neighborhood, was told on March 5 to shut at the end of the school year because of its low test scores.

The school's performance ranked in the bottom 14 percent of those in the state and did not meet a number of performance benchmarks, according to a letter sent to the charter from the state.

At D.U.E., 26 percent of students tested scored proficient or better in language arts for the 2012-13 school year, and 45 percent scored proficient or better in math, slight increases over the previous year.

Principal Doris Carpenter said Tuesday the decision was "arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and I will add destructive and unjust. . . . unjust to our children, unjust to our families, and unjust to the future of Camden."

After submitting a remediation plan to the state in June 2013, the school never received a visit, letter, or phone call until the letter telling it to shut down, Carpenter said. She also took issue with the decision's timing: before April testing, which she said would have demonstrated improvement at the 500-student school.

"We are sad, but more than that, we are appalled," she told Council.

Students, one in sixth grade and one in first grade, came to the lectern to share their love for the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school, as young peers lined the room wearing green and yellow colors, some holding "Save Our School" signs.

"The Department of Education looks at a vast array of information when reviewing a charter school, including a review of performance data, academic trends, financial reports, site visits, classroom observations, and interviews with stakeholders. The issue that carries the greatest amount of weight is academics," department spokesman Michael Yaple said in a statement Tuesday night.

Yaple also said the department "doesn't get into a point-by-point debate in the public about a decision on an individual charter school."

Council President Frank Moran said that Council had no authority in a state decision but that he would set up a meeting with the mayor to examine the circumstances of the closure and consider calling state lawmakers.

Under state law, the school must appeal the decision through Superior Court's Appellate Division, which it has said it will do.

In other business, Council passed an $8 million bond resolution to pay for demolishing 500 or more abandoned houses.

The city has an estimated 4,000 abandoned properties, attracting drug activity, squatters, and violence, police have said. A second ordinance established a vacant-property registration system. Council also passed an ordinance to use money collected through parking lot surcharges to fund demolition of additional abandoned properties.

"This is another tool in cleaning up our city," Moran said.

Also, Council's budget, initially introduced in September at $172 million, was adopted at $181 million, $30 million more than last year's. The budget still includes no tax increases or layoffs of city workers.

The increase mostly comes from unanticipated grants and surplus funds.

The budget is funded largely by the state, which will provide $113 million in aid, up from the $102 million it gave to Camden for the 2013 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

Council members observed a moment of silence upon discovering at mid-meeting that former Police Officer Lenny Hall had died. Hall was known for his work to curb gang violence and drug dealing. He played basketball for Camden High School and went on to Florida State University, where his career was ended by injury. Hall returned to Camden and joined the police force in 1969, retiring in 1996.

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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