Gov. Christie and Camden mayor agree on Camden schools' failure; need for alternatives

The big chief was in town today to ceremoniously sign a bill that created a pilot project to allow private companies to construct and operate taxpayer-funded schools in three failing districts, including Camden.

Standing between Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd and bill sponsor Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), Gov. Christie said that the students sitting behind them in the Lanning Square School gymnasium deserved a chance to be governor and, so far, regular Camden public schools hadn't provided all of them the necessary education.

“There's a myth that money equals quality education, Christie said, referring to the pumping of state and federal money into poor districts like Camden that continue to fail year after year.

The governor believes, and later Redd agreed, that instead of giving more money to the district, providing parents options of where to send their kids to school is the solution, or, well, part of the solution.

The Urban Hope Act that the governor signed today launched a pilot project allowing nonprofit and for-profit entities to create up to four "renaissance schools" in three of new Jersey's failing school districts- Camden, Trenton and Newark. The private entities would bear the cost of land acquisition, design and construction (nonprofits are allowed to use state funds for this). They then would receive 95 percent of the district's per pupil expenditure, which for Camden is about $19,000 per child. Though approval from school board is required, the private companies are not subject to public bidding requirements.

Could that lead to corruption or companies milking the system? Christie and Redd think there will be enough oversight to avoid that.

"I'm not going to support any entity that comes in to milk Camden. We've been milked enough, there's nothing left,” Redd said in an interview later on Thursday.

The mayor, whom Christie described today as a partner and friend, plans to focus much of her next two years (and beyond, she hopes, since she plans to run for a second term) on school reform in Camden, as well as public safety.

“We can't do what we've always done. It's not working," Redd said.

In a 50-minute interview with me today, Redd reflected on her two years as mayor and what is ahead. We discussed everything from Camden's inability to be financially self-sufficient (she is trying to draw businesses and middle-class residents, but needs to fix crime issue first) to adopting a Camden County police plan.

Look for my story in Sunday’s Inquirer, but a few fun facts I learned about Redd:…
1.      She is the prankster in the office.
2.      She “roots” for the Dallas Cowboys just to annoy her Eagles colleagues who are diehard Eagles fans, such as Chief of Staff Novella Hinson.
3.      She likes to shop alone and includes a Starbucks stop in between. (We bonded over that. I do the same.)