CAMDEN, NJ— The Camden City School District could see massive layoffs and building closures in the 2019-2020 school year unless it receives the $27 million in emergency aid from the New Jersey Department of Education [DOE] it has requested.
Acting Superintendent Katrina McCombs addressed the district’s budget gap at the city school board meeting on Tuesday night.
“It’s not the time to panic, it's just the time for us to be very much aware,” McCombs said.
The school district is currently waiting for its $362 million preliminary budget to be approved by the DOE, and for a decision on its request for an additional $27 million in emergency aid — decisions that could be made any day now, according to a district spokesperson.
“Do I believe that we are going to get the money that we are advocating for to close this gap? In my heart, I believe we have advocated and done everything possible to make sure that occurs, but now it is in the hands of the NJDOE,” McCombs told the audience at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
Large budget gaps are not a new problem for Camden schools. When the state took full control of the school district in 2013, it had a budget gap of over $100 million that led to layoffs, school consolidations and school closures. According to a district spokesperson, for the past three years the school received a little less than $10 million each year in emergency aid from the state after a request made by former Camden schools superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard for $30 million over three years was granted in 2015. However, now those one-time infusions of cash have run out.
If the school district doesn’t receive any of the $27 million requested, it could mean the closure of over 10 schools.
McCombs said that in addition to advocating for emergency aid, the school district has also been working to identify other areas where it can save money.
“We have been doing everything we possibly can to make those savings, to scrub our budget so those savings are real and we can benefit from them,” McCombs said. “However, if new revenue does not come through, there is currently considerable risk that we will need to take drastic action in the form of mass layoffs or building closures.”
“We want to continue the momentum our students have built in recent years, we have come too, too far to risk going backward now. So with everything that’s within us, we are advocating and we just you to be aware of where we are,” said McCombs.
Under Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget, the school district is set to receive a total of $284,372,949 in state aid for the 2019-2020 school year, an additional $2.3 million compared to last year, or less than a one percent increase from last year.