Saturday, July 4, 2015

Camden Board of Education members surprised by takeover

As we reported Sunday evening, Gov. Christie will be in Camden Monday to announce a state takeover of the Camden School District. Here are some excerpts of my interviews with some school board members following the our confirmation of the news.

Camden Board of Education members surprised by takeover

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As we reported Sunday evening, Gov. Christie will be in Camden Monday to announce a state takeover of the Camden School District. Here are some excerpts of my interviews with some school board members following the our confirmation of the news. 

As of Sunday evening only a few board members knew of the announcement and those who did hardly had details.

Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd called Board of Education President Kathryn Blackshear earlier in the day to ask her to be at Woodrow Wilson Monday morning to listen to Christie explain details of "some kind of state takeover," Blackshear said.

Board members Sara Davis, Barbara Coscarello and Ray Lamboy said early Sunday evening that they had not been briefed yet on Monday's announcement. Board member Brian Turner said he knew of the takeover announcement but wanted to hear the governor speak before commenting.

When I told Blackshear it was definitely a takeover, she expressed frustration.

“The state has always been here. (Michael) Azzara could’ve done whatever he wanted,” Blackshear said, referencing a state monitor based in Camden.

“I’m just more and more disheartened,” Blackshear said, adding she wasn’t planning to seek re-appointment in May when her three-year term is up. But she later said she might consider an advisory board seat depending on what it entails.

Blackshear said that she believes control of the school district is better in local hands but that because the state funds most of the district's budget, her "hands are tied." She plans to stand by the mayor’s side Monday in support of “whatever she does.”

As board president, though, is she okay with having the state take over her role?

Gov. Christie is “going to do it his way … there’s nothing I can do about it,” Blackshear said. “Even if all nine of us said ‘Oh, we don’t agree,’ then he would say ‘Come up with your own dollars.’ ”

The state funds 86 percent of the district’s $327 million budget.

Ray Lamboy declined to comment until “I hear what they have to say… it’s not official until he actually says it.”

Barbara Coscarello said that while she is a “believer in parental choice,” she wanted to hear what the Governor’s exact plan is before commenting. However, she did have a strong reaction to the news that Christie would appoint a superintendent.

“What a shame. We have some wonderful candidates,” Coscarello said. “All the money we’ve spent. Oh my God.”

Board member Sean Brown was optimistic Sunday that Christie would consider one of the three candidates who are currently in town for a final round of interviews Monday evening.

“If he picks one of the three people we interviewed, then great,” Brown said. “If not, then it’s a slap in the face.”

One board member who said she would definitely not be standing next to Christie and Redd for the announcement Monday is Sara Davis, one of the longest serving  board members and one who has consistently opposed charters and the new renaissance school.

She the state has “done a back-door takeover anyway for 20 years,” Davis said, referencing state monitors and other state officials who have been in Camden over the years.

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About this blog

Allison Steele writes about Camden’s schools, government and businesses. Most importantly, she writes about the city’s residents. She is a former crime reporter who covered the Camden and Philadelphia police departments for the Inquirer. A Philly native, she has been with the Inquirer since 2008.

Send comments, tips and story ideas to asteele@philly.com, call 856-779-3876, or reach out on Twitter @AESteele.

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