KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy renaissance school proposal is approved by Camden school board

After months of lobbying behind the scenes, the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy renaissance school founders got their wish: their five-school campus proposal was accepted by the Camden School Board early Wednesday evening.

The vote came just before 2 a.m., after more than two hours of closed session discussions among the board. Representatives from KIPP and the Cooper Foundation joined the board during the last hour of the board’s closed session.

 The KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy proposal —— which was rejected in September by the Camden Board of Education in its bid to become one of the state's first privately run, publicly financed Renaissance schools in the city —— was the only proposal re-considered at Tuesday’s board meeting.

None of the three other Renaissance proposals, also rejected Sept. 25, were voted on again Tuesday.

At its September meeting, the nine-member board unanimously rejected, with one abstention each, proposals for the Benjamin Franklin Academy, the Camden Center for Youth Development SMARTS Academy, and the Universal Cos. Renaissance School. The KIPP proposal, designed for the Lanning Square neighborhood, next to the new Cooper University Medical School of Rowan University, was voted down, 4-4, with one abstention.

Some board members who rejected the KIPP proposal initially complained that the scope of the project was too large. But despite those complains, the KIPP proposal did not change in size and the board moved forward the group’s plan for a five-campus project.  The resolution was amended, after the board’s closed session, to include a clause that the board’s approval is conditional upon a contractual agreement with the KIPP Cooper Norcross group.

The renaissance school - which is a partnership of the Norcross Foundation Inc., a charity created by the family of State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) and his brother George E. Norcross III; the charitable foundation of Cooper, which George Norcross chairs; and one of the nation's largest charter-school operators, the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP). George Norcross is a managing partner of the company that owns The Inquirer.

The Urban Hope Act, sponsored by Donald Norcross and signed into law by Gov. Christie in January, gave local school board officials the power to approve up to four Renaissance projects each in Camden, Trenton and Newark. Only Camden has considered the measure.

Companies can build and operate the schools and receive up to 95 percent of the amount the district would have spent for each student that enrolls in its schools.

Board member Sara Davis was the only member who voted against the KIPP proposal. Member Ray Lamboy abstained from voting. Member Brian Turner was absent at Tuesday/Wednesday’s meeting. The rest of the nine-member board agreed to move the proposal forward for review by the state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf. A contract would then be negotiated with the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, said board attorney Lester Taylor.