Friday, September 28, 2012

Camden School Board Shoots Down All Urban Hope Act Proposals

In what the local media are calling a “surprise move,” the Camden School Board rejected all applicants who proposed building and running new schools under the recently-legislated Urban Hope Act.

Here’s coverage from NJ Spotlight, the Courier-Post, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Urban Hope Act, passed early this year, allows non-profits to build up to four new schools in Camden, Trenton, and Newark. The schools will essentially function as charter schools. Interestingly, the Act was supported by NJEA but virulently opposed by Education Law Center and Save our Schools-NJ, creating one of the first (if not the first) wedge issue among the three typically-allied organizations.

Four groups applied to the Camden School Board. This week, three were voted down by all members in a closed session: Ben Franklin Academy, Camden Center for Youth Development, and Universal Company. No surprises there: the most promising application was from KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy. Here’s what I wrote about it in August:
The proposed school, the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, will be run by the highly-regarded KIPP TEAM group in Newark and will feature extended school days and "a vigorous college prep program." There's guaranteed enrollment for all children in the catchment area, including those with disabilities. Doctors and nurses from Cooper University Hospital and med students from the Medical School of Rowan University Hospital will act as mentors to the school's students.
Here's the surprise: The Camden School Board members (all appointed by Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd, an ardent supporter of the Urban Hope Act), split into two factions on the highly-regarded KIPP proposal, four in favor, four against. And then, reports the Inquirer,
The tipping ‘no’ vote came from city attorney Brian Turner, a rookie board member who often sits quiet at meetings. Turner arrived to the board just before the vote-- almost six hours after the meeting had started -- and voted down all proposals. As he walked out, I asked him why he voted the way he did but he declined to comment. 
Cooper University Chief of Staff Louis S. Bezich sat through the entire meeting and was shocked to hear the board’s decision. 
The board’s vote “was not consistent with the process,” Bezich said, referring to Kipp’s scoring on the rubric. 
“It seems like a rejection of the Urban Hope Act and not just our proposal,” Bezich said. Asked what the group’s plan is now, he said: “We’re going to have to talk to the state and school board officials.”
Clearly this was about politics, not about what’s best for Camden’s students, currently relegated to drop-out factories and dysfunction. Stay tuned for reaction from the DOE.

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