On Friday, Superintendent Katrina McCombs unveiled a budget that she described as “nothing short of a miracle.”
The budget includes 44 layoffs and a $5 million tax hike, which will cost the average Camden homeowner $150 per year.
The only “miracle” is that Superintendent McCombs refrained from saying what Camden advocates actually feel -- Governor Murphy and the state Department of Education are forcing the Camden City School District to balance its budget on the backs of black and brown people.
This comes at a time when COVID-19 has already exacted a devastating toll on people of color in our state.
In early February, Parents for Great Camden Schools published an op-ed and held a press conference demanding that Governor Murphy release the millions of dollars of emergency aid that had been promised to Camden.
The DOE promised the money was coming. In the op-ed, we predicted that “without aid, the superintendent may be forced to implement the kind of austerity measures that devastate schools: increasing class sizes, eliminating programs, and laying off teachers.”
Despite the district's proposed cuts, Superintendent McCombs presented that no buildings will be closed as a silver lining in an otherwise difficult budget.
“It would have been inhumane to close buildings at a time when our families look to them to go to get food,” she said.
I respectfully disagree. It’s more inhumane to starve our schools of resources, including the support staff who were just laid off.
Among the 44 layoffs are nine family and operations coordinators, many of whom are Camden residents and all of whom play the essential role of engaging the families of our students.
Also let go were all of the remaining operations managers, who manage the day-to-day operations at schools and six climate and culture coordinators, who prevent bullying and resolve student conflicts.
From food access to tablet distribution, families rely on these personnel for so many of the critical services they need to ensure the baseline rights for their children.
The state left Superintendent McCombs with few good options.
Departing state Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet promised millions of dollars in aid that never came. Meanwhile, under pressure from the DOE, the district has done little to address the fundamental issues contributing to our structural budget deficit.
The governor and commissioner would rather have citizens bear the brunt than take on the New Jersey Education Association and consolidate outdated schools, many of which are operating at 40% capacity or less yet costing as though as they are more than 80% full.
Superintendent McCombs attributed the budget to “collaboration, teamwork, and a whole lot of prayer.”
Faith is an important part of the lives of many Camden residents. We may be pious, but we aren’t fools.
Prayers won’t feed our families after taxes strain our already threatened incomes. Prayers won’t staff our schools with staff who will be there after hours and on weekends to meet the needs of our families.
Leaders in Trenton are squeezing Superintendent McCombs between the high-quality education and responsible budget she owes Camden families and the political games going on in Trenton.
We don’t need prayers; we need the $5 million we were already promised.
Governor Murphy and the DOE duped us once, but this time things are different. There’s an unprecedented crisis, and families are worried about our health and our finances. We expect a “progressive” administration to look out for our interests.
Now is not the time to raise taxes. Now is not the time to deny educational justice to Camden kids for yet another year. Now is the time for Superintendent McCombs to stand up for our children and for Governor Murphy to do what is right and provide the promised funds.
Bryan Morton is the Executive Director of Parents for Great Camden Schools