May 13, 2022

Keith Benson: Camden schools are under attack

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The president of the Camden Education Association raises the alarm about education in his community.

For the past ten years, and likely before, the Camden Education Association has been desperately trying to raise alarm that our public education system in under attack.

Public education in Camden is under attack from state legislators through knowingly passing legislation in 2012 (Urban Hope Act) that planned and preempted the demise of our District, or through persistent apathy in doing nothing to prevent it.

Public education in Camden is under attack from city politicians from three successive mayors to city council, to committee members, who pledge their allegiance to one George Norcross III, and his Camden Rising agenda which demands the dismantling of public education in Camden.

Public education in Camden is under attack from a silent Department of Education who has been alerted to all of the ways our school system is, and has been under attack, and despite Camden being the only District under state takeover, has yet to substantively take the reigns and demand accountability from the State Superintendent.

Public education in Camden is under attack from our current State Superintendent and prior State Superintendent as they steadfastly found ways to threaten the existence of our public school system through closing public schools and establishing renaissance schools in their place.

Public education in Camden is under attack from a silent and complicit media apparatus that has largely ignored the realities of the assault on public education in Camden, and instead consistently put the words of officer-holders and the Superintendents as the center of the narrative pertaining to education – despite its obvious, and documented spin.

Our educators, students, and community members, for years, have marched, protested, written op/eds, petitioned – everything we’ve been taught (and teach) is needed to achieve change and action. Sadly, and frustratingly, we’re all learning a difficult civics lesson – that when politics is involved, the neediest have no friends nor allies when we need substantive action.

For year we’ve begged and pleaded for entities in media to hold true to its values of the “fourth estate” and hold public figures like our superintendent accountable; and in 2020, for the State to intervene and prevent our current superintendent from closing schools and displacing over 1,000 students and, in the long run, upending our budget. Instead, very little if anything of either has occurred. While SY2021-22 is closing with a balanced budget (thanks to the application of federal COVID dollars), the district would have been facing a $73M deficit. Unfortunately, in 2022-23 we may not have a pandemic and the federal funds to bridge what ever deficit exists (real or imagined). What is certain, as per CCSD’s Business Administrator, is without “significant enrollment increases” for SY23-24, the district may need to

re-evaluate “our overall operation, staffing, and other areas.”  We’ve asked the State to make demands on the Superintendent to boost district enrollment. We’ve asked the State to intervene and take corrective action against a central enrollment system (then Camden Enrollment, today One Camden) that was proven to restrict enrollment in District schools and divert students to renaissance schools. The disaster that we at CEA have been raising alarm about still looms, and still here we are hoping someone does something to either intervene, or at least report on the story fully and accurately.

Our Camden public schools are under attack, and it seems no one empowered really cares at all. But what cannot be said when disaster does (or continues to) finally strike, is that journalists, news entities, lawmakers, and the NJDoE were unaware, or were ignorant to the realities occurring here for the past few years. This letter, if nothing else, is to put on the record that the survival of our public schools is in jeopardy, and that we are, and have been, asking for help in defending public education from entities both internal and external working to ensure our demise.  

Thank You for Reading (and for what ever actions you are moved to take in the protection of public education in Camden),

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