CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — The Camden City School District has detailed its restructuring plan. There will be school closures, despite objections from some parents.
Superintendent Katrina McCombs says these are difficult decisions ahead, but the district’s mission remains the same, to prepare each child for college and a career.READ MORE: Irv Cross, Former Eagles Star DB And Pioneer Black Analyst, Dies At 81
“These decisions are painful for you, they’re painful for families, they’re painful for the school community, they’re painful for me but there is a necessary pain that is needed that is temporary,” McCombs said.
About 1,200 kids from four Camden schools will leave their classrooms permanently this summer. The four schools on the chopping block are Wiggins, Sharp, Cramer and Yorkship.
“How are you the superintendent and you’re closing all the schools you have?” said parent Maria Montero.
According to the plan, the students from the four schools to be closed will attend consolidated classes at four other district schools, with the assignments based on the students’ grade level. Free transportation will be provided for impacted families.
But Montero, a mother of four whose children go to Wiggins, isn’t convinced.
“They’re not gonna give us no buses. They’re not gonna guarantee it,” Montero said.
Others against the change say some students will suffer.
“These kids need a lot of help. The ones I’m taking care of have special needs. Moving these kids back and forth is gonna make them suffer,” said Stacy Hill-Fontanez.
The superintendent says three of the four buildings are over 100 years old, in need of intensive repair, and on average are about 30% empty.
“I do understand and empathize with our families, however, the hard decision has to be made if we’re to set our children up for success,” McCombs said.
McCombs says shuttering the doors to these four schools will also help close the gap of their current $40 million deficit that will continue each year, and in the next decade would equal upward of $400 million in debt.
Board members sounded off during a virtual board meeting.
“My understanding is that there is $5 million that is missing and we do not know where it went. Can we get an understanding of that as well?” school board member Elton Custis said.READ MORE: COVID In Philadelphia: City Easing More Restrictions Monday On Road To Recovery
That question was never answered.
The four schools would all be closed due to what Superintendent McCombs described as deplorable conditions that the cash-strapped district does not have the funds to fix.
“The pictures of those deplorable conditions, as Ms. McCombs has said, is pictures of an old school that’s already been closed! You show these pictures over and over again for the last 10 years,” one parent said.
About 150 school employees would also be laid off.
Camden Education Association President Dr. Keith Benson tells Eyewitness News the district has been saving money from learning remotely.
“The district has been saving millions of dollars. What are they talking about when they’re saying they’re in this dire financial situation right now?” Benson asked.
Parents and teachers who want to save their jobs are hoping the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education will overrule the superintendent’s decision.
The group that opposes the school closures will meet with the commissioner of education Thursday.
The next Camden City School District board meeting will be on Feb. 23.
CBS3’s Alecia Reid and Kimberly Davis contributed to this report.
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