Charter schools one of main topics at Camden education forum

After stating “I will not be answering any questions” – a warning that elicited much mumbling in her audience -- Camden County School Superintendent Peggy Nicolosi stood in front of more than 300 people on Thursday night ready to listen to their concerns about the Camden City School District.

Residents’ comments at the education forum, hosted by the state Department of Education and Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd, were to be taken into consideration as state officials prepare a final Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) report, state Department of Education spokesman Justin Barra said prior to the event. The report--  which assesses instruction, operations, personnel, governance and fiscal management-- allows the state to intervene in problem areas or mount a full takeover if a district scores less than 50 percent in all categories. Camden scored less than 50 percent in all but the fiscal management category.  (For background on initial QSAC findings, read HERE)

But not a single parent brought up the city’s poor showing in the first report. In fact, hardly any parents spoke.

The first several people to speak promoted their own leadership nonprofits and educational programs. Then there was a string of the usual activists who attend school meetings. The teacher’s union president spoke and so did some union members and school board members.

Of the few parents who spoke, most voiced concerns over the state’s focus on charter and renaissance schools.

“If kids act up in charter schools, they’ll be sent back to Camden public schools. Well, bring that money back,” immediately, said Diane Jones, who was concerned about the district’s funneling of funds to charters.

After a count of Camden students attending charters is done in October, state funds will be redirected to their schools. Camden’s traditional schools stand to lose up to 90 percent of their per student allotments for each child who is in a charter. If a student leaves a charter school in the middle of the year, the money follows the student back to public school but only in the following school year and October count.

Former school board member Theo Spencer suggested putting a  cap on the number of charter schools coming in to the city. There are currently six new charters waiting for final approval to open in September. 

Nine-question surveys were passed out at the forum asking attendees about their perception of safety and discipline at Camden schools as well as how satisfied they are with the district. The questionnaire will also be taken into consideration for the final QSAC report, Nicolosi said.

Neither Camden Superintendent Bessie LeFra Young nor deputy superintendent Reuben Mills, were at the forum.

The state's final QSAC review, which will determine what action, if any, it takes on the district, is expected by late spring.

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