Four schools in the Camden City school district will close their doors for good this year, as part of a plan to deal with a $40 million deficit.
The Sharp School, Cramer School, Wiggins School and Yorkship School will all close in June. Three of the four buildings are more than 100 years old while all four buildings are in need of structural repair, school district officials said.
“Our students are entitled to the best facilities, education, and support,” Superintendent Katrina T. McCombs said. “It is my mission as Superintendent to place students in schools that give them the best opportunity to succeed. Many of our older buildings are deteriorating, while we have space available in our newer district facilities. With the plan and support we are outlining today, the Camden City School District is taking another step toward fulfilling our promise of Putting Students First.”
Enrollment in the Camden City School District has declined by nearly 50% since 2013. Mayor Frank Moran said the projected budget deficit of $40 million in 2022 and every year going forward is unsustainable and change is necessary.
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“Closing buildings that are 30% empty and in a state of disrepair is the responsible course of action; our students deserve a better learning environment," he said. "I cannot also in good conscience solve this budget deficit via a tax increase on the backs of Camden residents this year, that too in the middle of a pandemic.”
Officials said the students in the four schools will have guaranteed seats at a new DIstrict school. They also said all of the students will have transportation to the new school.
Sharp School students entering grades K to 5 will have guaranteed seats at Veterans Memorial School while Sharp School students entering grades 6 to 8 will have seats at Davis School.
All Cramer students will have guaranteed seats at Davis School. Wiggins School students entering grades K through 5 will have guaranteed seats at Forest Hill School while Wiggins School students entering grades 6 through 8 will have guaranteed seats at Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy.
Yorkship School students entering K through 2 will go to Cream School. Yorkship School students grades 3 through 5 will go to HB Wilson School. And Yorkship School students entering grades 6 through 8 will go to Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy.
Creative Arts Morgan Valley will also pilot a new middle school model as part of the plan.
Many parents of students at the four schools were outraged by the decision.
"The Superintendent said our schools are in deplorable condition but what I find is deplorable is the leadership and decision making because you're destroying a community," Felix Moulier, the father of a Sharp School student, told NBC10. "And it's more than a building."
Moulier said he wants more answers.
"It's a multi-million dollar budget," Moulier said. Hundreds of millions of dollars. Where is the money going? That's the question that we really need to ask."
The District consulted over 500 parents, educators and faith leaders to develop the plan. The process included enrollment projections, 750 community surveys, 12 planning committee meetings and two community input forums.
“The long-term school planning process was transparent, thorough, and serious about reaching out to gather community feedback,” Shirley Irizarry, executive director of Parents for Great Camden Schools and member of the committee, said. “Anyone who reviewed the enrollment projections and budget and heard Superintendent McCombs’ vision for additional investments in instruction would understand that school consolidations were needed. Moving forward, parents are eager to see a smooth transition, and I commit to working with the District — and holding them accountable — to make that happen."