CAMDEN, NJ— The mood in Farnham Park Wednesday morning was as jubilant as the sun that spelled relief from two days of torrential downpours.
A group of Camden community leaders who had campaigned for an elected school board to return to Camden gathered in the park to thank those who voted No to yesterday’s Camden City School Board ballot question.
A question on Tuesday's ballot asked voters to say yes or no to, “Shall the Camden City Board of Education remain a Type I School District with the Board of Education members appointed by the Mayor of the City of Camden.”
Camden residents voted overwhelmingly against the measure, 4,923 to 2,968, or 62 percent voting 'No' to 37 percent voting 'Yes', according to unofficial results posted by the Camden County Clerk's office.
“I think it's been a shift in the energy in the city,” Ronsha Dickerson said. Dickerson, co-founder of the Camden Parent Union, had worked with about 15 community leaders to canvas Camden’s neighborhoods, knock on doors and campaign to encourage Camden voters to vote No on Tuesday.
“What happened last night was truly a community victory,” Dickerson said on Wednesday. “It wasn’t one individual leader, it wasn’t one particular voice — it was many voices singing the same exact song.”
The gathering was led by Pastor Amir Khan, who, along with the rest of the group, were sporting blue T-shirts emblazoned with green letters that said, “Camden Votes No.”
“Today’s main purpose is to come before you on social media to say to the community, thank you, thank you, thank you,” Khan said, speaking to an audience watching via Facebook Live. “This did not happen because one, or two, or even a small group of people or a large group of people. It really happened because of you, the community.”
Troy Oglesby, a community activist, said he and other organizers had visited 30 polling locations throughout the city yesterday to encourage voters to vote No.
“It’s the underdog time,” Oglesby said Wednesday morning of the referendum result.
Others gathered on Wednesday morning included community members, members of the Camden Education Association and South Jersey Women for Progressive Change.
“The Camden comeback is real,” said Lisa Hardwick, Camden Education Association administrative assistant.
The referendum followed an April New Jersey Superior Court appellate panel ruling that residents of Camden should determine the classification of their school district.
While school board members will now be publicly elected, they will still continue to serve only in an advisory capacity until the school district is returned to local control. Under state control, the school district advisory board members do not have the power to vote or approve any items on the district’s agenda items.
Despite the lack of voting power, advocates for the school board to return to being elected by the public believe Tuesday’s result means a return of accountability to the school board.
Keith Benson, president of the Camden Education Association and longtime advocate for an elected school board, said Tuesday night that the result "shows that residents want the opportunity to participate in education."
"This is what happens when a community recognizes that the issue of education is really important. [It shows] how the community can come together and how the interests of the community and the issue of education are really one in the same," Benson said.