Camden School Spending, Low Graduation Raise Eyebrows

Misappropriation of funds is being cited as the main reason for the amount of money being spent by the Camden, New Jersey school district not matching up to the district’s graduation rate. In an article by Julia Terruso of the Philadelphia Inquirer, it was revealed that Camden spent $9,000 more than the state average per student, but only graduates 49% of its students.

This school year Camden spent $27,500 per pupil, $9,000 more than the state average, to educate a district of 15,000 students, about 11,700 of them attending district public schools. Twenty-three of the district’s 26 schools appear on the state’s list of the 70 lowest-performing schools, but the city will spend almost as much per pupil in the current school year as the state’s highest-spending districts, Avalon and Stone Harbor, spent in 2012-13.

Current board members and state officials agree that the reasons for this disparity are:

  • high costs associated with a high-poverty district
  • over-staffing
  • mismanagement
  • more money going to charter schools
  • leadership problems
  • high management turnover
  • improper allocation of resources
  • over spending
  • reduction of federal funding
  • declining enrollment
In defense of the district, David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, says that it costs much more per pupil if the district is in an area that is below the federal poverty level.  When taking this into account, the Camden School District spent slightly more than the statewide special needs per pupil expenditure.
There is disagreement when it comes to the district’s budget.  Specifically,  the $72 million that it will transfer to charter and renaissance schools in the next school year to assist the funding per pupil costs.  Renaissance schools are a hybrid of public and charter school prototypes.

Some solutions that are being discussed include downsizing the central office; removing teachers who require remedial training in areas in which they are weak; appointing board members who are knowledgeable of the district’s finances; and doing away with programs that have not been evaluated to establish their effectiveness.  The district has already announced that it will remove 575 positions for the next school year.  Since some of these positions are vacant at this time, Camden schools will lay off about 400 employees.

Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard says that there are still certain personnel and programs that will stay put, including school security, professional development, the existing special transition team, special education programs, after-school programs, purchasing necessary teaching materials, and partnering with renaissance schools.

Camden has also approved the addition of two private schools which will be open for the next school year.  Mastery and Uncommon Schools are both renaissance schools.  The schools will open in temporary locations which have not been been disclosed, pending approval.  Rohaniford is solidly behind the charter and renaissance school growth.  Sciarra says that the opening of these schools is “rushed and potentially illegal”.