Veterans Memorial Family School in Camden may be closed because of a district budget deficit.

Camden (N.J.) district may close 2 schools to ease budget woes

April 11, 2019
To help eliminate a $27 million deficit, administrators have proposed closing two elementary schools.

Facing a $27 million budget deficit, the Camden City (N.J.) School District may close two schools and an annex, relocate about 900 students, and cut several hundred jobs reports that acting superintendent Katrina McCombs has released details of a sweeping reconfiguration plan calls for moving students out of Veterans Memorial Family School, which needs $14 million in repairs, Riletta T. Cream Elementary, and the Bonsall Annex.

Cream, which now has about 300 K-8 students, would become an early childhood center. Veterans, which has about 500 students in grades K to 8, and Bonsall, which enrolls about 75 preschoolers, would be closed.

The Camden district has been operating under state control since 2013.

Camden Education Association president Keith Benson says that if the changes are approved, as many as 300 teachers, administrators, support staff, and custodians could be laid off, he said.

District spokesperson Onome Pela-Emore disputed the number of employees affected. She says between 50 and 200 positions could be cut.

“We are trying to save as many positions as possible,” Pela-Emore says.

In an internal district memo McCombs says other options include increasing class sizes, eliminating summer school, and making cuts in after-school, athletic, and extracurricular programs.

“Even if we close our budget gap for next year, it wouldn’t be enough to solve the long-term enrollment and facilities issues our schools face,” McCombs says. “In order to keep resources in the hands of teachers and students, we must make changes for next year.”

Michael Yaple, a state Department of Education spokesperson, says Camden’s budget has not been finalized and any decisions on cuts are pending. The district is slated to receive $284.3 million in state aid for the 2019-20 school year, a $2.3 million increase from the previous year, he said.

The state of New Jersey took over operation of Camden school after years of poor test scores and a graduation rate that was among the lowest in New Jersey. 

Shortly after the 2013 state takeover, Gov. Chris Christie appointed Paymon Rouhanifard to head the district. Under his tenure, five of the city’s most struggling schools were turned into Renaissance schools, managed by private operators.

Now, more Camden public school students are enrolled in charter and Renaissance schools than traditional public schools. Rouhanifard stepped down last June.

For the 2018-19 school year, the district has about 6,800 students in the city’s 18 traditional public schools; 4,350 in 11 charter schools, and 3,850 in 11 Renaissance schools.

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