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PROPOSED CHARTER CHAIN SCHOOL TAKEOVERS IN CAMDEN RAISE MORE RED FLAGS

April 8, 2015

The Superintendent of the State-operated Camden School District recently announced plans to turn over the operation of five district-run, neighborhood schools to the out-of-state Mastery, Uncommon and KIPP charter chains beginning this September (2015-16 school year). 

These charter chains were approved by the NJ Department of Education (DOE) to build and operate “renaissance school projects” in Camden under the Urban Hope Act (UHA), and currently operate several schools as part of those projects.

The State-operated Camden District announced on March 25 that applications have been filed with the DOE seeking approval to hand over operational control of the five schools to Mastery, Uncommon and KIPP. The Camden District, however, did not make those applications public. Nor has the District provided any opportunity for public review and input on the applications.

Under State control, Camden’s Board of Education is “advisory,” and governing authority over Camden’s public schools rests solely with the State District Superintendent.     

Education Law Center has obtained four of the five takeover applications from the DOE through a request under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Because these applications will impact the education of Camden schoolchildren next year and in future years, ELC is making these documents available to inform students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders of the State District Superintendent’s proposed plans for these schools.

The four takeover applications are:

1)  East Camden Middle School – to be operated by Mastery;

2)  McGraw Elementary School – to be operated by Mastery;

3)  Molina Elementary School – to be operated by Mastery; 

4)  Bonsall Elementary School – to be operated by Uncommon.

No application has been filed with DOE for the Whittier Elementary School, which the State District Superintendent announced would be turned over to KIPP.

There is no indication when the DOE will make a decision on these applications. There is no process under the UHA that provides for public review and comment on the applications prior to approval.

The applications do, however, raise serious red flags related to compliance with the UHA and other legal requirements. Some of the concerns preliminarily identified by ELC are:

1) The UHA does not permit the State-operated District to surrender operational control over its existing schools under the umbrella of a renaissance school project. The UHA only allows Mastery, Uncommon and KIPP to open additional renaissance schools that are in buildings that have been newly constructed or substantially refurbished by these chains.

2)  All five of the district schools are priority and focus schools under New Jersey’s NCLB waiver and State School Turnaround regulations. These schools have been undergoing intensive improvement efforts over the last three years under the auspices of DOE’s Regional Achievement Center (RAC). The State Turnaround regulations do not permit priority and focus schools to be turned over, or otherwise converted, to charter schools for educational improvement purposes.

3)  All five schools are designated for facilities renovations or systems upgrades in the Camden District’s Long Range Facilities Plan (LRFP) approved by the DOE on January 26, 2015.

ELC calls on the State District Superintendent to release to the public all documents, including communications with the charter chains, related to the school takeover plans. The State Superintendent should also promptly schedule public hearings with parents and other concerned stakeholders to discuss the progress the State District and the RAC have made over the last three years to improve educational outcomes for students attending the five affected priority and focus schools, and what efforts the District and the RAC will make to continue those efforts in the 2014-15 school year. The meetings should also discuss what steps the State District Superintendent can take to immediately apply for school construction funds from the NJ Schools Development Authority to upgrade the physical condition of these district schools.

 

Related Stories:

NEW CAMDEN CHARTERS: 1st YEAR ENROLLMENTS RAISE RED FLAGS

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CHARTER CHAINS THAT WILL EDUCATE CAMDEN CHILDREN?

 

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24