CAMDEN, NJ — Mayor Frank Moran has joined the gamut of voices across Camden in pleading that the state commissioner of education release $44 million in emergency aid to city schools — first applied for in early 2019.
Verbal promises were made by the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) since last fall that at least part of the aid would be available for the Camden school district to counteract any financial drawbacks — which have been compounded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the meantime, the state would review the district’s books to ensure all was in compliance on the road to local control.
However, as of today — a month after the Camden City School District (CCSD) presented its approved 2020-21 budget — no state aid has been released.
“The Department has agreed that there was a need for emergency aid, but that aid was never provided unlike other districts whose aid was approved,” Moran writes in the letter sent to DOE Commissioner Dr. Lamont Repollet dated June 10.
Camden, part of over 30 other applications for such aid, is unique in that it remains state-controlled. Although the district was told in February that at least $23 million from the state would be at its disposal, that money was frozen following the financial impact of the pandemic.
In May, when Superintendent Katrina McCombs outlined the next school budget, a $5 million tax hike (averaging $150 for property owners) and layoffs were part of the picture. It was the first hefty tax hike since 2011.
“While I support the Superintendent in making the District’s budget whole, I cannot support a tax increase,” Moran continued. “Had CCSD received its promised emergency aid in a timely manner, this increase would not be necessary. Increasing taxes on Camden residents at this time is unacceptable. Our city is already reeling from a public health and economic crisis that is disproportionately impacting people of color.”
“The social movement happening across the country is a reminder of how often marginalized communities are the victims of failed promises by the government,” the mayor continued.
The DOE and Dr. Repollet did not immediately respond for comment.
"In a city that is financially-dependent on the state for over 80% of its budget for both school district and city government I'm glad that our mayor is advocating for money that is owed to Camden," longtime activist Sean Brown told TAPinto Camden. "While I'm glad he sent the letter, I do think city leadership with support from the government needs to step up, as we are not on a sustainable financial path."
Not all responded positively to the letter.
Keith Benson, president of Camden Education Association, has called it, "window-dressing."
"The mayor may act like he's standing up for the residents and the community as far as the impact on black and brown people, but the real question that will be asked is how much corporations, which don't pay a thing in taxes, will be held accountable by his administration," Benson said over the phone. "Something like this is by design as to not put the tax levy increase into the right context and beat back the idea that real questions need to be answered."
Following the announcement that Dr. Repollet will become the 18th president of Kean University, Brown believes, "It's critical that the next commissioner appointed by Murphy supports fully funding Camden schools but also supports finding a balance between district, charter and renaissance schools as far as student allotment, so we won't have over 40 schools but also people getting laid off and school closures in the district creating uncertainty for everybody."
City spokesman Vincent Basara said that as of Tuesday, the city has not received a response from the DOE commissioner.