Layoffs, firings, other changes for Camden schools

A spokesman for Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard (pictured) said the cuts are needed to help plug a projected $39 million budget gap for the 2016-2017 school year.

The Camden School District announced another round of layoffs and personnel moves Thursday, affecting 154 teachers and support staff.

The state-run district said it was laying off 22 teachers; 27 school staff, including custodians, security guards, and clerks; and 29 members of the central office staff.

A spokesman for Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said the cuts were needed to help plug a projected $39 million budget gap for the 2016-17 school year.

The cuts were announced Thursday night at the advisory school board's meeting at Dudley School. The district is required by the state to notify staff of any personnel changes by May 15.

The district began the process of notifying those affected on Wednesday by distributing letters, spokesman Brendan Lowe said.

An additional 20 teachers and 56 student services staff will be fired for performance-related reasons, district officials said. These employees were also notified by letter of their dismissal.

Lowe said the changes were part of an "effort here to bring our staffing levels in line to where we need to be." In addition to the 154 affected employees, about two dozen other staff vacancies will not be filled.

"Our schools will still be well-supported, but we do need to make some reductions," Lowe said. "The superintendent made a lot of hard decisions."

Robert Farmer, president of the Camden Education Association, which represents about 1,500 teachers and support staff, could not be reached for comment.

Camden, with about 15,000 students, has a proposed $372 million budget for the coming school year. The state took over the district in 2013 because of the city's chronically failing schools, among the worst in New Jersey.

Rouhanifard, appointed by Gov. Christie to lead the struggling district, has said the district must cut spending to offset years of declining enrollment and financial mismanagement.

Despite the cuts announced Thursday, Rouhanifard said that because the district will have fewer students, most classrooms will have a 9-1 student-teacher ratio in the coming year, compared with 10-1 now.

"At the end of the day, we had to make these reductions," he said. "Not only were [the positions] not necessary instructionally, they are not sustainable financially."

The district plans to hire at least 15 reading intervention specialists who will be assigned for the 2016-17 school year to the elementary and middle schools to work with struggling students, Lowe said.

At least 15 operations managers, a new position, will be hired also to assist principals in operating their schools, Lowe said. The managers will oversee support staff and budgets, transportation, school meals, and generally handle logistics, he said. Those roles are mostly now done by the principals and vice principals.

Eight vice principals whose jobs are being abolished can apply for the new operations managers jobs, Lowe said. However, the superintendent has recommended reassigning seven to the classroom and appointing one as a guidance counselor, the board report shows.

The changes are the latest reorganization moves by the district amid shifting enrollment from traditional public schools.

More than half of Camden's public school students are expected to enroll in charter schools or charter-public hybrid "Renaissance" schools next year, compared with about 48 percent this year, Lowe said.

Currently, about 2,100 students attend the city's seven Renaissance schools. Nine charter schools enroll about 4,400 students this year.

Lowe said the district schools affected by layoffs would be adequately staffed. There are 22 district schools.

Two years ago, the district laid off about 206 teachers. It ultimately recalled about half of those.

The district also plans to abolish about 20 community coordinator positions. The starting pay for these jobs was $21,000 annually. Those jobs will be replaced with newly created positions of family and operations coordinators.

Lowe said the community coordinators could apply for the new positions, which will include more responsibilities and about a $20,000 pay increase. Those positions will be year-round jobs and will no longer be included in the collective-bargaining agreement, he said.

"We think once we are through these difficult changes . . . our schools will be in pretty good position to give our kids the education they deserve next year," Lowe said.

mburney@phillynews.com 856-779-3814 @mlburney

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