Last night the Camden Board of Education voted to not challenge NJ’s takeover of its district, (see coverage from NJ Spotlight and Philadelphia Inquirer). By a vote of 4-2, the Board passed a resolution that the takeover was in the best interest of Camden schoolchildren, and that the district would fully cooperate with the Christie Administration.
No shocker here: Camden’s Board is appointed by Mayor Dana Redd, and she recently replaced two board members who were not with the program. John Mooney also notes that the lack of “meaningful resistance” from a large audience 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.”
One hot button: the lay-off of 100 school employees, including (according to the Inquirer), 32 teachers and 35 supervisors. The lay-offs are necessitated by a ballooning budget ($326.5 million for next year, $10 million more than last year) despite declining enrollment. Said one teacher at the meeting, “You sold us down the darn tube.” Calvin Gunning of the Camden principals union decried the elimination of so many employees “a union-busting tactic.”
For a little context, look at the Camden City Schools’ “Final Needs Analysis and Strategic Plan,” an independent evaluation accepted by the Board (including members since deposed ) this past September. The Analysis examines all aspects of school governance, and begins by producing Camden’s most recent scores on the state’s QSAC assessment, which grades each district on five areas: Instruction and Program, Fiscal Management, Operations Management, Personnel, and Governance.
So, given those looming lay-offs, how does Camden do in the area of Personnel? On a scale of 0-100, with 80 a passing grade, Camden received a score of 19%. Some of the commentary:
Camden’s per-pupil cost continues to increase as its enrollment declines, which likely indicates cost drivers have not yet adjusted to meet changing enrollment needs.
During interviews, the district’s enrollment decline was the budget pressure most often cited by district stakeholders. Reportedly many costs in the district’s budget directly related to enrollment remain unchanged or have only slightly decreased. Primary among these expenditures are the costs associated with underutilized schools, overstaffed schools, and disproportionate levels of administrative and support services. While accurate district specific data were not made available to thoroughly analyze this issue, some relevant findings are included below that demonstrate the need for the district to look further into these cost drivers:
• In 2010, Camden had the lowest student-to-teacher ratio in its peer group at 9.6 to 1.
• Camden ranked highest among its peer group in percentage of per-pupil cost spent on support services at 23 percent, representing an increase of five percentage points from 2009.
• The district knowingly misrepresents (with the state’s approval) its expected enrollment in prepared budget documents to remain in compliance with state administrative ratio requirements.
• Charter school enrollment continues to increase, but budget projections for tuition payments have been challenging due to the timing and quality of information from the state.
• There are reportedly several severely under-enrolled school buildings that require all the fixed costs of a school.
Without making budgetary adjustments that reflect the enrollment changes, the district will spend resources inefficiently.
It’s terrible to have to lay off teachers (although some of these positions will be eliminated through attrition). But it’s hard to argue that Camden’s use of personnel resources is efficient or strategic.