In a cost-cutting move, the Camden school district has sent pink slips to 40 employees, including five teachers, to help close a budget gap for the next school year, district Superintendent Katrina McCombs said Wednesday.

The notices were sent Monday to affected employees, McCombs said. They include special education and elementary teachers, support and operations staff, as well as administrators, she said.

“The hope is that the number continues to get smaller,” McCombs said.

Camden Superintendent Katrina McCombs says layoff notices have been sent to 40 employees, including five teachers.
TOM GRALISH
Camden Superintendent Katrina McCombs says layoff notices have been sent to 40 employees, including five teachers.

Last month, McCombs announced sweeping changes in the district to bridge a projected $27.6 million deficit for the 2019-20 school year. They included cutting up to 200 jobs, relocating about 900 students, and consolidating and closing several schools.

McCombs said the district worked with state and county officials to trim $16 million from its proposed budget and reduce the job losses needed. The district hopes to receive $11 million in emergency state aid to finalize the budget, she said.

By law, public school districts annually must notify employees by May 15 of their status. A special school board meeting scheduled for Wednesday night to inform the community about the job cuts was canceled because none of the district’s seven school board members were available, McCombs said.

“Forty is better than 200, certainly,” said Camden Education Association president Keith Benson. “There are still 40 families that are devastated and life just got harder for them through no fault of their own.”

In this file photo, Keith Benson, president of the Camden Education Association, holds a sign during a news conference advocating for tax-incentivized development to benefit longtime residents in Camden.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
In this file photo, Keith Benson, president of the Camden Education Association, holds a sign during a news conference advocating for tax-incentivized development to benefit longtime residents in Camden.

Even with additional aid, McCombs said she will proceed with plans to close Veterans Memorial Family School, which needs $14 million in repairs, and the Bonsall Annex. Also, Riletta T. Cream Elementary will be turned into an early-childhood center.

The biggest impact will be felt at Veterans Memorial, which has about 500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Some students will be sent to Davis Elementary, while bilingual sixth through eighth graders will be sent to Cramer Elementary, where the district plans to start a dual-language academy.

Most of the district’s preschoolers will be enrolled in Cream, which is now operating at about 43 percent capacity. Cream Elementary students would be sent to H.B. Wilson Elementary, which will become a K-8 school, and Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy.

McCombs said some affected students have enrolled in new schools for next year. The district has scheduled school tours and open houses for parents and students, she said.

Benson and community leaders have widely criticized the closings and reconfigurations. They have called for a freeze on cuts and school closures and want a federal probe into the district’s spending.

“It’s not over yet, by any means,” Benson said Wednesday.

Camden, South Jersey’s largest public school system, has been operating under a state takeover since 2013. The district has about 1,600 employees and operates 19 schools, some operating at half capacity.

Critics believe Camden school officials have focused too much on Renaissance and charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, and have ignored its traditional public schools, such as Veterans.

For the 2018-19 school year, the district said it enrolled 7,520 students in the city’s 19 traditional public schools; 4,340 in 11 charter schools; and 4,400 in 11 Renaissance schools.