Camden board doesn’t resist state takeover of schools

With little debate among board members but plenty in the audience, the Camden Board of Education last night voted not to challenge the Christie administration’s planned takeover of its public schools.

The board voted 4-2 in favor of a resolution that waived its right to a legal hearing over the state’s intervention, likely removing the last legal obstacle before the full intervention takes place this summer.

The resolution read that local consent would be “in the best interest of the children of the district and the district,” and that the district and its employees would fully cooperate and share information with state officials in the transition.

With formal approval still needed from the State Board of Education, the local vote nonetheless opens the way for the administration to start looking for the district’s next superintendent and the overhaul of the district’s central office, as it seeks to remake what is arguably the lowest-performing school district in the state.

Even as it gets relegated to advisory status, the board’s acquiescence was largely expected since Gov. Chris Christie first announced the takeover plan in March. The board is also entirely appointed by Mayor Dana Redd, who strongly backed the state’s plans and stood with Christie when the takeover was announced.

But the lack of any meaningful resistance at all was a little surprising, especially given the concerns and criticism that continue to dog the state’s long-running oversight of schools in Newark, Paterson and Jersey City.

Some community advocates and others in the audience let the board know their displeasure, some more diplomatically than others.

“You sold us down the darn tube,” said Joyce Carter, a former employee in the district, echoing a half-dozen others who spoke during public testimony.

The vote on the resolution came at the very end of the meeting held at the H.B. Wilson Elementary School, which reflected the challenges that will immediately greet the state in its new role.

For one, the district is slated to eliminate more than 110 positions in next year’s budget, more than 60 of them classroom teaching positions.

Approximately 35 administrative positions are also to be lost, and more than a dozen of those administrators came to protest last night.

In all, dozens of educators attended the meeting to openly challenge the layoffs, reminding the administration that one of the first tasks in state intervention will also be to negotiate new contracts with both the principals and the teachers.

In addition, community activists attending the meeting said they will proceed with their legal challenge of plans for a network of new privately-run public schools in Camden under the Urban Hope Act.

The first of those schools, run by the KIPP charter school network, is slated to be built in the next year in partnership with Cooper Health Systems and its chairman, South Jersey businessman and political leader George Norcross III.

Board members voted on the consent resolution as part of a package of more than 30 resolutions, with virtually no discussion. By that point, the auditorium was almost empty as midnight approached.

Some cautionary words came earlier from outgoing board member Sean Brown, who said promises by state officials and Mayor Redd will only go so far. Brown was one of the two dissenting votes on the resolution.

“If mayors and governors want to make decisions and judgments on what happens in schools, then they at some point be in those schools,” Brown said. “Not just for press conferences to announce a takeover or partnership, but to take tours to see the inadequacy of our facilities, the excellence of our teachers, and the thirst for learning of our students.”


NJ Spotlight, an independent online news service on issues critical to New Jersey, makes its in-depth reporting available to NewsWorks.

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