Camden School Board members likely to demand answers at Tuesday's meeting

Since last week, more than two dozen state Department of Education officials have been meeting with faculty, staff, and board members of the Camden City School District.

It is part of the state’s Quality Single Accountability Continuum, or QSAC, follow-up review which will determine what, if any, intervention the state will impose on the beleaguered district.

In the latest QSAC performance review, released Feb. 13, the district received failing grades in four of the five categories — instruction and program (7 percent); operations (47 percent); personnel (9 percent), and governance (33 percent). It received 79 percent in fiscal management.

The district has since filed an appeal letter with the state. Board members met individually with County Superintendent Peggy Nicolosi and two other county superintendents to discuss the governance section of the QSAC.

But that’s not enough for some board members. Barbara Coscarello asked for an emergency board meeting the day the QSAC scores were released. She never received one.

“The schoolhouse has been on fire and no one admits to smelling the smoke, which I have been saying for over two years,” Coscarello said. “We need a change in leadership. I believe QSAC has recognized this, and we must respond immediately.”

Fellow board member Sean Brown also said he hopes the scores are discussed at Tuesday’s board work session. Chances of that happening are slim since board President Susan Dunbar-Bey says the scores are not final until the state finishes its reviews and possibly changes some of the scores.

If the special board meeting two weeks ago is any indication of most board members’ discontent with the district’s leadership, tempers are likely to flare at Tuesday’s meeting.

While she continues to defend the school superintendent, Bessie LeFra Young, Dunbar-Bey blames the district’s low score in governance — 33 percent — on infighting on the board. The state has blamed the board for deficiencies in protocol and confidentiality.

“I agree with that,” Dunbar-Bey said. “Anyone who watches our meetings knows that.”

But she also quickly reminded me that the previous QSAC resulted in a score of 11 for governance.

“I look at it as, ‘We’re trying,’” she said during an interview for my article on the QSAC results. “I support Dr. Young. … I know how hard they work behind the scenes to get it right and things do fall through the crack sometimes,” she said.

When I pointed out that most board members and the mayor have been publicly criticizing Young, Dunbar-Bey said: “I’m not jumping on the bandwagon.”

The board president, whose term is up this spring, said she didn’t see how the district’s problems would be fixed if Young were forced out.

“When people get frustrated they call for change … but we still have the same parents and same kids,” she said. “When you have a whole city of poverty, problems are social, not academic.”

So how do you improve the district then, I asked.

“If I knew, I would have already proposed it,” she said.

In the meantime, she said, she just wants the board and district to work harmoniously.

Tuesday’s work session, which is open to the public,is at 6 p.m. at the administration building, 201 N. Front Street.