This South Jersey District Struggles To Keep Public Schools Open

City of Camden officials say they can no longer afford to teach less than 6,350 students at 19 different schools, in a district that used to educate nearly double that.

Superintendent Katrina McCombs
Superintendent Katrina McCombs Photo Credit: Camden NJ Public Schools Facebook

When the state took over the Camden school system in 2013 after years of poor student performance and low graduation rates, the district enrolled more than 11,000 students in more than two dozen buildings.

Thousands of students have since chosen to enroll in publicly-funded charter schools. The city’s eight charter schools enroll 4,188 students, while 12 Renaissance schools have 5,449 students.

Now, state-appointed Superintendent Katrina McCombs wants to close several of the struggling public schools and reconfigure grades, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. McCombs aims to close budget deficits that have ranged from $22 million to $44 million a year.

On Tuesday, McCombs plans to announce the district's next courses of action. The district is likely to reconfigure grade ranges from the current K-through-8 and 9-to-12 model to K through 5; 6 to 8; and 9 to 12. McCombs said the shift would reduce teacher vacancies and help the district better compete.

The school district turned five of its troubled schools over to Renaissance schools, private schools that receive taxpayer money.

But critics say the district has spent too much time and energy on Renaissance and charter schools while failing to improve academics while boosting enrollment at its traditional public schools 

“The consequences are catastrophic,” Keith Benson, president of the Camden Education Association, told the Inquirer. “The idea that the district has to close these schools is a lie.”

The latest plan, released earlier this month, would close two schools, Sharp Elementary and Wiggins College Preparatory Lab School. Cooper’s Poynt Family School and Davis Elementary along with Creative Arts High School would be converted into middle schools.

An earlier option proposed closing Cooper’s Poynt and Sharp Schools. In that reorganization plan, Creative Arts High, Davis Elementary, and Wiggins Elementary Schools would enroll middle-school students.

Benson thinks the closings would move more students from traditional public schools and force many students to travel nearly two miles to school.

For more details and comments, read the Inquirer article here. 

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