NJEA's "Punch List" of Everything Wrong with Camden Public Schools

On Monday, N.J. Education Association and the Camden Education Association  issued a joint press release assailing the State Legislature for approving amendments to the Urban Hope Act. “We  recognize,” said the parent union and local chapter,  “that nothing – no outcry or reasoned appeal from educators, parents, or the general public – was going to change the minds of legislators predisposed to pass it.”

Let’s leave aside the overwhelming support of elected representatives for minor tweaks to the 2012 legislation (one year extension for non-profit charters to submit applications, permitted leasing of underused district facilities). And let’s not address NJEA’s and CEA’s anger that that  a conciliatory amendment intended to provide early retirement bonuses and pension add-ons for laid-off teachers was vetoed by Gov. Christie.

The weirdest part of the press release is the catalogue of alleged improprieties on the part of Camden Public Schools, including a list entitled “Examples of the ‘Camden Promise’ Not Fulfilled.”(The plan is actually called the “Camden Commitment," Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard’s strategies for elevating academics, facilities, safety, professional development, and community relations.)

The release begins with a general statement, followed by a punch list of deficiencies at nine of Camden's 26 traditional schools.

I don't know, of course, whether 200-pupil Brimm Medical Arts High School is missing a Mandarin teacher (there's no mention anywhere on the school website of a Mandarin program) or whether there's an unfilled 5th grade position at Yorkship Elementary School,  Many districts struggle to fill last-minute vacancies because teachers move or take other jobs. And some positions are notoriously hard to fill -- in every district, not just Camden -- like special education teachers and science teachers,

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer quotes Rouhanifard on last-minute vacancies: "This is a year-over-year challenge, not a new phenomenon. We faced similar challenges at the start of last year with reassignments and retirements. We currently have offers out and we're working diligently to fill the vacancies."

Other parts of the NJEA/CEA release are, however, clearly inaccurate.

From the press release: “For too long, there has been an uneven playing field for students in Camden. Students in traditional public schools have faced understaffed schools and a lack of materials. Technology in the public schools remains abysmal.”


First, students in Camden were funded last year at $28K per pupil. If there’s an “uneven playing field,” it has nothing to do with resources.

Second, the schools are not “understaffed.” Camden traditional schools, in spite of enrollment shifts, boast a student:teacher ratio of 11:1.

Yes, there were large lay-offs last year, around 240 staff members. How could there not be? As more  Camden parents choose to enroll their children in non-traditional schools like charters, there’s a proportional staffing shift as well.  (Laid-off teachers can always apply for positions in charter schools although NJEA and CEA would still not recoup their dues unless the teachers chose to unionize.)

How “abysmal”is the technology? Last year, Camden spent $5 million creating technology centers in five elementary schools. On  August 26th, the district announced a $1.4 million investment in technology (part of the Camden Commitment) , including 2,300 new laptops, and improved wireless coverage.

How short-changed are the children through the original implementation of the Urban Hope Act (which NJEA supported) or through the implementation of one of the new amendments that permits co-occupancy of traditional and charters schools, the source of much of the union's umbrage? Let's ask a Camden Public Schools teacher who works at  Pyne Poynt Family School. The building shares space with one of the new Urban Hope charters, Mastery:
Sol Angel Rivera has taught at Pyne Poynt for 33 years. She attended the school and was teaching while current principal Richards was a student. 
She said sharing the space has been "fine," though she had to move from the first-floor classroom she'd had for 15 years to one on the second floor. She was pleasantly surprised when a Mastery teacher helped her set up her social-studies classroom. 
"Every year there are new challenges," she said. "This is one of them, but basically I just go along with the program. Whatever comes, you adjust."
Ms Rivera could teach NJEA a thing or two.

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