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on May 12, 2014 at 8:18 PM, updated May 13, 2014 at 6:20 AM
Camden residents gather on May 12, 2014 ahead of a special meeting of the school board in which Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard announced plans to lay off educators and other staff within the school district. (Staff Photo by Jason Laday.)
CAMDEN — City education officials on Monday announced 241 layoffs across the district’s 26 schools, including 206 teachers.
Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard approved the layoffs during a special meeting of the school board Monday evening, which was marked by continuous, angry outbursts and comments made by members of the public. They included members of the Camden Education Association (CEA), parents and other residents.
The crowd reserved particular vitriol for the state-appointed superintendent, with shouts of “Go back to New York” and “You sold us out to the governor” heard throughout the beginning of the meetings.
“You work for us, not the other way around – we tell you what to do,” shouted Eulisis Delgado from his seat in the auditorium at H.B. Wilson Family School. Later, he produced a bullhorn and addressed that board and superintendent.
“You sold us out to the governor, that 800-pound gorilla,” he said.
Following an hour-long executive session of the school board, Rouhanifard attempted to address the crowd in advance of a presentation detailing the layoff plan.
However, regular outbursts from many residents, as well as a brief chant of “Whose school? Our school,” caused the superintendent to abandon the attempt in favor of moving directly to the public comment part of the agenda.
“Tonight is hard,” said Rouhanifard, prompting the audience to respond in shouts and sighs of faux sympathy. “I have been responding to a number of teachers about this, and you can shout back at me – nothing is stopping you, and I won’t stop you – but I want to say we went about this process in a way that reflects the importance of this decision.
“I want to make it immensely clear that there are many people who will lose their job (in this plan) who care deeply about their students – this is not an indictment of them,” he added. “And while I know that this may seem to contradict with what we’re doing here today, we care deeply about these teachers.”
Teachers who spoke out Monday against the layoffs, criticized the district for issuing “pink slips” during the week of the NJASK standardized tests. They also questioned the criteria used by the district in selecting which teachers are to be laid off.
According to Rouhanifard, the layoff plan follows state law and seniority requirements in the collective bargaining agreement with the CEA.
Robert Farmer, a leader in the CEA, called the layoffs the “first step” in converting more students over to charter schools at the expense of public schools.
“We will sit down with the superintendent and board in order to lessen the impact on schools employees,” he said.
The 241 layoffs made official Monday evening follows the termination of 94 central administration employees late last month.
The Camden school district began the most recent budget process with a $75 million deficit, including a $42 million operating budget shortfall. According to Rouhanifard, non-personnel cuts and the use of surplus funds have helped fill all but $28 million of that gap. However, the superintendent that remaining gap will have to be reconciled with the elimination of 575 positions.
The budget he proposed in April included the elimination of 575 positions, many of them vacant. In all, 335 central office and school employees have been laid off.
In addition to teachers, the layoffs will hit guidance counselors, nurses and other staff.
However, there are 10 positions that managed to escape the school-based layoffs. According to Lowe, those positions did not suffer any personnel cuts.
They include the district’s athletic directors, attendance and dropout prevention officers, crisis counselors and social workers, custodians, JROTC and JAG team members, psychologists, school-based youth service team members, school safety officers, special education teachers and speech therapists.
The plan also calls for one or more art teacher, guidance counselor, librarian, music teacher and nurse per school.
“So, people are going to say we cut guidance counselors, and we did, but those services will still be provided at every school,” said Lowe. “We’re reducing the total number, but every school will have at least one – Woodrow Wilson will have six, and Camden High School will have five.”
The superintendent’s plan increases the number of community school coordinators and pre-K teachers.