CAMDEN, NJ — Three schools instead of four are now set to close at the end of the school year under a finalized plan, the Camden school district announced Friday morning.
Gov. Phil Murphy and Acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan have vowed to save Yorkship Family School, originally set to shutter, by finding funds that will tackle "emergency repair needs," according to officials.
Sharp, Wiggins and Cramer Elementary will still close in the state-controlled district as part of the final plan. It marks six months of planning that included community meetings and hundreds of surveys.
"I recognize that some families will be disappointed by today’s announcement, but I also know these decisions are based on feedback from hundreds of residents and are in the best interest of our district and our students; that’s why my top priority moving forward is to do everything we can to support families through this transition," Superintendent Katrina McCombs told TAPinto Camden in a statement.
McCombs also said the district "is now poised to implement a plan that will improve the quality of education offered by our district and place the district on solid financial footing.”
The district, which said it would provide transportation for any students displaced by the closures, is working now to shift to a hybrid format by early April.
Along with derelict building conditions, McCombs has pointed to 19 buildings housing roughly 6,000 students being excessive and the aim to regain local control as reasons over why the closures are necessary.
Initially a lack of state aid - while the district was in a $44 million deficit - was referenced as well, however in February Murphy's office said it would allocate over $54 million to address COVID-19 needs and an additional $13 million as part of the state budget. In a press release, the district said the cost to keep Yorkship open was possible through the increase in the state aid.
Camden Education Association President Keith Benson has highlighted that eight district schools have closed since 2014. The number jumps to 11 with Friday's plan.
Benson said over the phone that he considers the closures a failure on the district's part to increase enrollment over the years.
"You should not be a public school superintendent unless you care about public schools, our public schools," he said, noting that the district in various presentations referenced the proximity of families to alternative school types.
In a Facebook video, Benson said he was "really disappointed" by the closures and struggling to find words.
He noted that he was, "trying to keep in mind the fact that folks fought so hard and were so unified" to save public schools.
"It's just crushing to hear that something that's so important, some people devalue so much," Benson said.
The plan indicates that Cooper’s Poynt and Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy would remain Pre-K to 8th. Initially officials said there was a possibility some schools could transition to middle schools. Brimm Medical Arts, Creative Arts Morgan Village, Big Picture Learning and Camden High School will be consolidated at the new high school.
The closures will impact over 1,000 students and affect more than 50 to 75 staff positions.
Since first announced by McCombs during a board meeting, the decision to close schools has drawn ire from parents and school activists throughout the city. Some noted that without a nearby district school many families will opt for the practical decision of a nearby charter or Renaissance school.
The teacher's union has led protests for months - some to City Hall and others illustrating the extensive commute some families will undergo if the district stands by the closures. Tensions ran especially high during a recent tour of a building's conditions.
According to the plan, which officials say the district and state have finalized, the following would go into effect:
- Students entering grades K to 5 will to Veterans Memorial School
- Students entering grades 6 to 8 will go to Davis School
- All students will go to Davis school
- Students entering grades K to 5 will go to Forest Hill School
- Students entering grades 6 to 8 will go to Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy
School board president Min. Wasim Muhammad lauded McCombs for the process to reach this point.
"Change is never easy. But with the support of our elected officials, clergy, educators, and most importantly, families, we will come out stronger as a result of today’s announcement,” he said.