3-25-13 State aims to intervene in Camden school district
Star Ledger - Cerf calls Camden schools 'human catastrophe' as state seizes control

Politickernj - State takes reins of troubled Camden schools

Politickernj – Christie: Previous state takeovers not necessarily blueprint for Camden schools

NJ Spotlight - As Newark Battles School Takeover in Court, Is Camden Next?

Star Ledger - Cerf calls Camden schools 'human catastrophe' as state seizes control

By Jenna Portnoy/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger on March 25, 2013

CAMDEN — Calling the problems “chronic and severe,” Gov. Chris Christie today announced the state will take over the city's public school system, making it the fourth district under state control.

“We’re taking the lead because for too long the public school system in Camden has failed our children,” he said he said at a news conference of the library at Woodrow Wilson High School.

Christie said the district is at a “breaking point” that limits their children’s future. “Their options begin diminishing almost from moment they walk into the public school system,” he said. “Student achievement in Camden is the lowest in the state and in many cases getting worse over time.”

In Camden, 23 of 26 schools are in the bottom 5 percent of schools for performance standards. The 2012 graduation rate was 49 percent, he said.

“Believe me I didn’t come to this decision easily. I waited a long time — for me,” said Christie, who is seeking re-election this year. “I waited three years because I felt like I really wanted to give folks in Camden a chance to do this without entering into a partnership with the state.”

Past failures can’t be used as “excuse for failure,” he said. The state will work to bring “transformative leaders” to Camden to help the city and its children and build their own careers,” he said.

“I believe that there are so many people in Camden who will look at this as an opportunity to hit the reset button to put aside some of the failings, some of the bickering of the past.”

Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf called the situation in Camden a “human catastrophe” and praised the governor and the community’s “courage”.

“This is not politically smart, it’s not politically driven,” Cerf said. “It’s driven by a deep conviction that that the governor has that this is what government is for.”

Cerf said the promise that public education can be the agent of change in people’s lives, despite the circumstances of their birth, is “a great big lie in much of urban America.”

“If you are born poor… the probability that you will be launched into adulthood ready for success in life is despairingly low,” he said. “We cannot tolerate that.”

Mayor Dana Redd said she knows naysayers will point to failures of takeovers in other cities.

“To them I say the current status quo is failing our kids,” she said. “We cannot wait any longer.”

The state currently has control over three other school districts: Newark, Paterson and Jersey City.

Cerf today filed an “order to show cause” that gets the formal takeover process rolling. If not challenged in 20 days, the matter is turned over to an administrative law judge, he said. That process could take as little as six to eight weeks, or much longer.

Christie said it’s too early to set a timeline for how the Camden school board could regain control. The board serves an advisory role in a takeover. Since the takeover law was enacted in the late 1980s, the state has not given back control of any district.

State bargaining power with the teachers union is only one element of the plan, Christie said, quickly noting that the situation in Newark is different. In November, Christie touted the signing of a contract with the Newark Teachers Union that bases teacher pay on classroom performance, including student progress.

‘Newark is Newark,” he said. “Camden is Camden. You cannot look and I think it’s wrong to look at every urban area the same way.”

In Camden, there are currently 13,700 students in public schools and 3,000 enrolled in charters.



Politickernj – Christie: Previous state takeovers not necessarily blueprint for Camden schools

By Matthew Arco | March 25th, 2013 - 3:24pm

CAMDEN – When Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday his plans for the state to take control of the Camden City schools, it marked the fourth time the state has opted to take the reins of a struggling school district and it is the first time Christie has done so.

The governor announced his plans during a news conference at a Camden high school, where he was joined by Democratic lawmakers and local officials – the latter of whom voiced their praise over the takeover.

What changes?

The governor merely announced his plans for the state to take control of the school. However, scant details about what a takeover – or, “intervention,” as the governor would put it – will look like.

Christie said he hopes the state will assume its operational role by the time students return to classes in the fall, however the governor did not provide a specific takeover timeline today.

“We’re announcing our intention today to intervene and then work with the existing structure,” Christie said in Camden, explaining “there’s a legal process that goes along with this,” and the earliest the state would take the reins would likely be six to eight weeks from now.

The timing

Christie told reporters that while “you can’t really put a fine start date” on when he began mulling a takeover of the Camden schools, the final decision was made about four weeks ago.

The governor said he knew there were serious issues surrounding Camden schools when he first took office, but said a Department of Education study released in August 2012, coupled with urgings from DOE officials, pushed him toward a district takeover.

“The combination of the report in August ’12 along with the things that I’ve seen on the ground here myself just led me to want to have more conversations about it. I called Chris (Cerf, commissioner of the DOE) in and other members of my senior staff and said, ‘I want you to begin to examine this closely and come back to me with some ideas and recommendations,’” Christie said.

“They’ve done that over the course of the last few months and the ultimate meeting was about four weeks ago where they made their final presentations to me and then I made the decision within about six or seven hours after they ended that meeting – in my own head – and then communicated to them later that next week,” he said. “And then we began to work with the local folks here.”

A blueprint for Camden?

The governor said that previous state takeovers would not necessarily provide a template for the Camden situation.

The state has already taken the reins of school districts in Jersey City, Newark and Paterson. But, those takeovers began prior to Christie taking office.

Again, Christie offered little in the way of specific ideas for taking control of Camden schools, except to say people should not jump to conclusions about him mirroring what has been done in other districts.

For example, Christie was asked by one reporter whether his administration would work to bring changes to the collective bargaining process with Camden teachers.

Here’s what the governor had to say:

“Let’s be really clear: Newark is Newark, Camden is Camden, and you cannot look – and I think it is wrong to look – at every urban school the same way. Don’t take the fact that I say, ‘Sure, we would be happy to be involved in the collective bargaining process,’ to then conclude that we would want the same or similar type of contract with teachers in Camden that we just negotiated with teachers in Newark,” he said.

“All those things are going to be determined as we access things on the ground here in Camden and work with the local folks, including the teachers and the teachers’ union, to try to come to a place where we’re all doing better for the children of this district,” he added.

Union concerns

The state’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, issued a statement shortly after the governor’s announcement that called into question how successful state-run districts have fared in the past, but said it would “withhold judgment on the Camden takeover model until” they see details, said a statement from NJEA President Barbara Keshishian.

Christie said he looks “forward to working with the NJEA on this project,” but told reporters he did not speak with the union prior to his announcement.

Christie, who has had a rocky relationship with the NJEA, said he hopes recent cooperation in other areas of the state will foster a good working environment with the union this go-around.

“I am absolutely confident that they will come to the table in the spirit of cooperation,” he said, quickly adding that “it’s not going to be something that we’re going to play games” with, and promising to be tough on any person or organization that intentionally puts up barriers to a partnership.

Camden school board

Christie was noncommittal on describing what role the local governing body would play in the future, but offered a brief response to the role school boards have played in other takeovers.

“Typically what happens in these situations … is that the school board becomes an advisory board,” he said. “We’ll continue to work through that as we work through the legal process.”

Politickernj - State takes reins of troubled Camden schools

By Matthew Arco | March 25th, 2013 - 12:11pm

CAMDEN – Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday the state’s plan to take over its fourth troubled school district.

The governor’s announcement to take control of Camden City schools is the first state takeover of a New Jersey school district under Christie’s tenure.

Christie said during a news conference at Woodrow Wilson High School that Camden’s “problem has become chronic and severe,” saying it’s time for the state to take extraordinary measures.

“The situation I believe is dire now,” Christie said. “Each day that it gets worse we’re failing the children of Camden [and] we’re denying them a future.”

Citing standardized testing scores that rank nearly 50 percent of the state average, Christie said the state has been left with no other option.

“The system is broken,” he said. “We do this today to try to change Camden.”

The governor was joined at the news conference by Camden Democratic state lawmakers Sen. Donald Norcross and Assemblymen Gilbert Wilson and Angel Fuentes.

The takeover was also met with support by the state Senate’s top Democratic lawmaker.

“We recognize this is a dramatic change, but its time has come,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a statement.

“I know that, elected officials of both parties know that, and more than anyone else, the parents of Camden with children in failing schools know that. We all need to do this together and move forward for the future of Camden’s children.”

Among the people and organizations unwilling to offer an opinion on the governor’s announcement was the state’s largest teacher union.

“It is always preferable to have public schools managed by local communities, and the citizens of Camden must be assured that they will continue to have a strong and respected voice in reforming a public school system that meets the needs of all Camden students,” said New Jersey Education Association president Barbara Keshishian in a statement.

“The track record for state-run districts has been questionable at best, and NJEA will withhold judgment on the Camden takeover model until we see the details,” she said, referring to the other districts – Paterson, Newark and Jersey City – already under state control.

Christie predicted opponents to the takeover will likely not remain silent over the coming months, saying he’s ready for their criticism.

“They will not be able to say that we didn’t act,” he said. “And I believe that failure to act in this instance is a greater sin than any other mistake.”

The commissioner of the state’s Department of Education, Chris Cerf, lauded the governor for having the courage to do what he says is the right move for Camden, and maybe not necessarily the most politically safe decision.

“It is driven by a deep conviction that the governor has, that this is, as he said, that this is what government is for,” Cerf said. “It is for using the power of government to change lives for the good.”

According to Christie’s office, the state takeover could be in place by the fall.

Among other things, according to the state:

* Nearly 90 percent of Camden’s schools, 23 out of 26, are in the bottom 5 percent performance-wise in all of New Jersey, including the three lowest performing schools in the state.

* Camden’s four-year graduation rate was only 49 percent in 2012 – 37 points below the New Jersey average.

* But during the 2011-12 school year, Camden spent $23,709 per student, compared to the statewide average of $18,045.

NJ Spotlight - As Newark Battles School Takeover in Court, Is Camden Next?

After eight months, Camden has addressed some of Cerf's concerns, but is it too little too late?

By John Mooney, March 25, 2013 in Education  

Close to 25 years ago, New Jersey was the first state in the country to take over a local school district. Yet time has done little to calm the arguments -- or the tensions -- surrounding what was then an unprecedented move.

Related Links

Case in point: The local school board in Newark is proceeding with its legal challenge against the Christie administration over state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s decision last year to maintain full control, despite some signs of improvement in the state’s own evaluation of the district.

But Newark may be just one of the theaters where argument over state control is playing out, with Camden schools now on the threshold of seeing greater state intervention as well.

In a letter to the Camden board last August, Cerf said he would give it eight months to meet a set of goals, including progress toward hiring a new superintendent. Eight months are up in a week, and all indications are the administration is ready to step up its role.

Gov. Chris Christie scheduled to be at Camden’s Woodrow Wilson High School this morning, and while neither his office nor Cerf would comment on the nature of the visit, Philly.com and the Wall Street Journal cited unnamed sources saying he will call for greater state role.

Local community and board leaders said they heard the speculation, too, and were waiting for the details.

“There are so many rumors, some takeover, some partial takeover, maybe vouchers or his own board or superintendent,” said Kathryn Blackshear, the board’s president. “They haven’t reached out, or told us anything as yet.”

She said the board was invited to the event by Mayor Dana Redd. It comes two days after the board spent Saturday interviewing candidates for the superintendent position. “I don’t know what will happen with that tomorrow,” Blackshear said.

The board also last week gave final approval of five new Renaissance Schools under the Urban Hope Act, another one of Cerf’s conditions.

When asked what would be the board’s response, Blackshear cited the state’s powers and control of its budget, funding close to 90 percent of the total. “The governor controls our budget, what can we do?” she said.

Still, the rules are different now than when New Jersey took over Jersey City schools in 1989, and followed up with Paterson and Newark in 1991 and 1995, respectively. At that point, the state was authorized to abolish the locally elected board and install its own superintendent.

A law enacted seven years ago has made the state monitoring process more surgical, detailing where the state can take control of -- and withdraw from -- specific functions, such as personnel and budget. And the state’s Regional Achievement Centers this year began working with nearly two-dozen of the city’s schools, which are deemed to be among the lowest-performing in the state.

The state’s monitoring process is at the center of Newark’s legal challenge. The local board maintains that Cerf failed to follow the law in ceding at least some controls after the state’s evaluation of the district in 2011, which found the district met required benchmarks in finance and personnel.

Instead, Cerf followed up with a second evaluation in which the progress was not reported, saying that even if certain benchmarks were achieved, the state would maintain control until the district showed “sustained” improvement. The state outlined its argument in its brief in January.

Both parties have filed the final legal briefs in what has been a slow-moving complaint before state appellate court, after the Christie administration unsuccessfully sought to have the case dismissed.

But tensions are even higher outside the courtroom, as could be seen at this past Wednesday night when community activists spoke out early and often at a public forum held at New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

Much of the time, the target was state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson, but Mayor Cory Booker also took some heat as an ally of both Anderson’s and Christie’s on many of the reform efforts.

The still-smoldering takeover drew particular attention when student Angel Plaza, the student representative on the local board, rose in the audience to ask Booker why he hasn’t stood up for local control.

“You should have blasted [Commissioner Cerf] and said we should get back that local control,” Plaza said. “I would have thought you would take the mantle and tell him we deserved it. It was a slap in the face to Newark students, all of us. “For 18 years, the state has controlled us, and we’re the dumb ones?” Plaza said.

Amid considerable heckling, Booker responded that he does support the state returning the schools to local control, although he left open the question as to what he has done to promote it.

“I support local control, and I have supported it consistently,” he said. “But until that happens, I’m going to support our kids and our schools right now.”