400 Camden School District employees to lose jobs to close $75M shortfall

Hundreds of Camden School District teachers and employees are losing their jobs in an effort to help close a $75-million budget shortfall. (WPVI)
May 12, 2014 8:27:59 PM PDT
Hundreds of Camden School District teachers and employees are losing their jobs in an effort to help close a $75-million budget shortfall. Tempers ran high during a contentious Camden School Board meeting Monday night over the sealed fate of hundreds of educators and staff.

"This Camden staff that you see sitting here in the audience have dedicated their lives to educating and caring for the city's kids and this is how we're repaid," high school teacher Keith Benson said.

The anger was aimed at the superintendent of this state-run district and the advisory board. They've been tasked with closing a $75-million shortfall in the $359-million budget.

Over 200 teachers will be pink slipped and another 100 in support personnel.

Nearly 100 employees have been laid off from the central office already.

"We deeply believe there's a path forward and right now, even after we institute a spending freeze and cut non-personnel considerably and even offset our revenue shortfall with our fund balance, we've got a gap," Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard.

Before Monday night's board meeting at Wilson Elementary School, there were tears as people furiously thumbed through the final report to see if they still had a job.

By state law, it's last in, first out. Sharp Elementary teacher Cathy Burry was one of those laid off.

"We're a wonderful school and if think it's really a shame. I worry about what's going to happen to the school with all the teachers not coming back next year," Burry said.

Bonsall Family School secretary Marisol Figueroa also learned she also lost her job.

"I'm a single mom. I've given Camden school 23 years of my life to know that it's all been taken away," Figueroa said.

At dismissal time, parents and grandparents had a difficult time grasping the layoffs.

"Students are going to really suffer. It's really terrible," grandparent Debra Holmes said.

Through midday, the superintendent and the leader of the employee union were still negotiating these job cuts.

"Basically, our children are going to suffer. It's less teacher personnel there, it's less people to be involved in educating the kids," Union President Robert Farmer said.

Since its formal takeover, the state has supreme power of the district's purse strings. The superintendent has the final word, so the parents and the union will be forced to live with it.

"These kids need more teachers. They need teacher aides in the classrooms to give them extra help," parent Orain Jackson said.

Much of the outrage at the board meeting was also over new charter schools in the struggling district where a spokesman says 30 percent of students read at grade level and the graduation rate is at 53 percent.

The district says no schools will close and they will keep a number of positions related to art, music, guidance counselors and after school programs.

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