Urban Hope Act meeting in Camden draws interest from some charters

A meeting for people interested in opening a Renaissance School (here is my most recent story that has some background) in Camden drew several charter school operators to the school district administration building Thursday afternoon.

Representatives from AAA Academy for Children and Camden Community Charter School, which each are attempting to open charters in Camden by fall 2013, said they attended the meeting to keep their options open. Education management and consultant companies such as Sabis, Frontline Solutions and Foundations Inc.were also there.

The meeting, which mostly consisted of a Powerpoint presentations about what the Urban Hope Act is and what the school board looks for when it reviewsapplications, drew yawns and even some snores. (I’m not kidding.) But at the end of the 90-minute meeting, people asked some interesting questions related to the specifics of the Urban Hope Act, which mandates that a nonprofit operate the school but allows for for-profit contractors.

One attendee claimed it made no sense to allow for-profit contracts for everything except instructional services. (The legislature says: “the renaissance school project shall be authorized to retain any business entity, however formed, whose primary purpose is the staffing, operation, and management of elementary schools, middle schools, or high schools in the United States, except as it relates to instructional services.”)

Another asked why only non-profits may operate the school.

These questions and others were answered by city or state officials who simply said “That’s the way the legislation was written.”

(Sen. Donald Norcross (D- Camden) wrote the Urban Hope Act.)

A list of six vacant school buildings was shown to the attendees to help them with ideas on where they could possibly locate. The caveat: Most of the buildings are empty because their structural damage was so significant, students could not safely learn there. Retrofitting would be a must for those and many city properties. Ed Williams, director of city planning and development. told the group that they would need to start the building process as soon as possible to be able to open by September 2013.

The potential four Renaissance Schools would be in addition to the 11 charter schools in the pipeline to open by either September of this year or 2013. 

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