Facing $27M Budget Gap, Camden Plans to Close Schools, Cut Jobs

The district faces a $26.7 million budget gap for the coming school year

Facing a $27-million deficit, the Camden City School District says it needs to make hard choices including closing at least three schools and laying off up to 200 employees.

Acting Superintendent Katrina T. McCombs called the decision to close the H.L. Bonsall Annex Preschool and Veterans Memorial Family School and turn R.T. Cream Family School into an early childhood development center next school year “excruciating.” In an interview with NBC10's Cydney Long, she cited three factors in making the closure decisions: academic achievement, the building itself and enrollment.

About 900 students currently attend the three schools. They would be moved to other existing schools in the coming year. Anywhere from 50 to 200 school employees would lose their jobs as well, the district said Wednesday. Pink slips must go out by May 15, McCombs said.

The district faces a $26.7 million budget gap for the coming school year and is looking at “creative ideas and advocating for new revenue,” as well as making the closures, the district said.

“This has been an excruciating time for me to come to these decisions,” McCombs, who attended Bonsall, said.

McCombs called the closures part of a “new school configuration for the 2019-20 school year,” in a letter that will be sent to parents and families Friday.

She says that Veterans School in East Camden needs about $14 million in improvements including a new HVAC system and roof.

“It is not currently financially viable to make this investment before next school year,” she said.

“The fact that they would close this school… it’s devastating and it’s sickening,” Keith Benson, president of the Camden Education Association teachers union, said.

The plan is to move the about 500 students in grades K to 8 at Veterans to Dr. Henry H. Davis Family School or the dual language academy at Alfred Cramer CPL School next year, the district said.

The K-8 R.T. Cream School in the Centreville neighborhood will be transitioned into and early childhood center for 3- and 4-year-olds and pre-kindergartners, the district said. Entering K to 5th grade students would attend H.B. Wilson Family School while 6th to 8th graders would go to Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy (CAMVA) next school year, the district said.

The Bonsall Annex will join the R.T. Cream Early Childhood Development Center, the district said.

“To ensure we are doing what is right for our students, we need to make choices that give our students as many resources as possible to support their education – even if that means in fewer school buildings,” McCombs said.

Critics argued that the district is favoring charter schools ahead of public schools.

“We need to all come together as one people in Camden and fight for our public schools,” Dava Padilla of grassroots New Jersey Communities United said.

The Camden teachers union plans to head to Trenton next week to lobby for more funding in hopes of saving the schools and jobs. However, the district said that even with the $27 million in emergency funding the schools will need to be closed.

“Even if we close our budget gap for next year, it wouldn’t be enough to solve the long-term enrollment and facilities issues our schools face. In order to keep resources in the hands of teachers and students -- we must make changes for next year,” McCombs said.

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