We had quite a few fair weather days this week and it seems like there were a few fair weather fans at the Wells Fargo Center yesterday when the Sixers lost Game 1 in their playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. Ben Simmons did not appreciate all the boos. Now this spring weather is forecast to turn to thunderstorms tonight. Perhaps it’s just setting the scene for a certain TV premiere everyone is talking about.
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Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with Inquirer reporter Melanie Burney about changes coming to the Camden City School District, which is facing a $27 million budget deficit. This week the district’s acting superintendent announced it may close two schools and an annex, relocate about 900 students, and cut several hundred jobs.
Describe the gravity of this situation. How much will these cuts disrupt the Camden community?
The cuts are the results of grave fiscal concerns and if implemented would have a major impact on the district, affecting about 900 students and possibly as many as 300 employees who could be laid off. The cuts would reconfigure schools and some students may be forced to travel to schools outside their neighborhoods. For example, students at Riletta Cream School in the Centerville section will be sent to H.B. Wilson and Creative Arts. Also in jeopardy with possible reductions or cuts are summer school, athletic and extracurricular programs.
Acting superintendent Katrina McCombs cited that, even if the school district closed its budget gaps, it wouldn’t address long-term enrollment issues. Describe the enrollment landscape at Camden County Schools. Are parents sending children elsewhere?
Camden is a public school system that offers three options: traditional public schools, charter schools, and Renaissance schools. Due to a major landscape change, more Camden public school students are enrolled in charter schools and Renaissance schools than traditional public schools. In 2000, the traditional schools educated nearly 19,000 students in more than two dozen schools. The demographics changed drastically as parents had more options and chose to send their children to charters and Renaissance schools, which are publicly funded and privately operated.
Are there any instances where you see the school district avoiding job cuts? What are other solutions that have been proposed, or what other solutions have worked elsewhere?
Superintendent McCombs has indicated that cuts are unavoidable, even if the district obtains the $27 million needed to close the budget gap. Some of the job losses may be reduced through attrition and retirement. But that will not solve the long term enrollment and facilities issues the district faces. Other districts, typically, turn to voters to support a tax increase or bond referendum. That is not an option in Camden, one of the poorest cities in the state, that relies heavily upon state aid to operate its schools.
What comes next, and what will you be keeping in mind as you stay on top of ongoing developments?
Activists and school officials are hoping the state will provide additional aid to close the shortfall. The budget is being finalized, so the numbers could change. The district has until May 15 to notify any impacted employees if their positions will be eliminated. McCombs plans to meet with staff, parents and community members to get feedback to discuss the closures and school configuration plans.
Looking good, Spruce Hill.
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“Developers should not be able to evict people, tear down buildings or dig pits without concrete plans to build something including a bond with the city or in escrow that would allow the area they ruin to be rebuilt or healed if they fail. Let’s look at the pit across from the Kimmel - a disaster. We don’t need something similar on Jeweler’s Row.” — Whattheheck, on Several Jewelers Row tenants receive eviction notices, even as Toll Brothers’ Philly high-rise plans remain unclear.