Camden School Closings Illegal, NJEA Asserts

Hespe urged to rescind approval of Renaissance Schools

Published on Monday, April 20, 2015

NJEA attorneys today filed a motion imploring State Education Commissioner David Hespe to rescind his approval of the corporate takeover of four public schools in Camden and reopening them this fall as Renaissance Schools.

NJEA believes that the closures of Bonsall Elementary School, Molina Elementary School, McGraw Elementary School, and East Camden Middle School violate the Urban Hope Act and the state’s No Child Left Behind Act waiver.  Under the Urban Hope Act, Renaissance Schools may only open in newly constructed buildings or substantially renovated facilities.

“The school district is attempting to circumvent the terms and spirit of the Urban Hope Act to allow the corporate takeover of Camden Public Schools,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer.  “The district is merely waiting until the end of the school year to do superficial renovations, at which time it will simply call these schools Renaissance Schools so they can be turned over to private management companies.”

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The Urban Hope Act, which originally passed in 2012 but was twice amended, allowed Camden, Trenton, and Newark the opportunity to open up to four “Renaissance Schools” in newly constructed or substantially renovated facilities.  Camden is the only one that proceeded.  Unlike charter schools, Renaissance Schools are approved by the local Board of Education and must enroll students from the local neighborhood.  Renaissance schools also receive 95 percent of district  per pupil funding, five percent more than charter schools.

In addition to violating the Urban Hope Act, NJEA argues that the closures of these schools also violate the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver application. The waiver requires schools to address performance issues through the Regional Achievement Center (RAC).  Further, the closures violate the state’s turnaround regulations, which call for a three-year turnaround period and do not allow for the schools to be handed over to charter school operators during that time frame.

NJEA believes that the closures and transfers of these schools to corporate entities were done improperly and without the input of stakeholders.

“Parents deserve to have a say before their children are transferred to a Renaissance School, and students and teachers have the right to be treated with fairness and dignity,” added Steinhauer.  “All of the people who are directly impacted by these decisions were left out of the conversation. Meanwhile the school district is handing property owned by the taxpayers over to a corporate entity. These actions must be stopped.”

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