By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
“I know this isn’t easy. And believe me, I didn’t come to this decision easily,” said Gov. Chris Christie. With the mayor of Camden at his side, Christie announced the state is taking over the Camden City Schools.
The state has had fiscal control of Camden schools for a decade, but now the governor wants to take over all aspects of the school district because, he said, the public schools are among the lowest-performing in the state.
“Nearly 90 percent of Camden schools — 23 out of 26 — are in the bottom 5 percent performance-wise of all in New Jersey, including the three lowest-performing schools in the state,” Christie said.
The announcement came at Woodrow Wilson High School, where just 46 percent of those in ninth grade four years ago went on to graduate and just 17 percent of those passed the high school proficiency test.
Christie said he knew last August he had to do something in Camden and arrived at this decision four weeks ago.
“We’re not acting because we got everything perfect and we’re not acting because we believe we know better. We’re acting because inaction is immoral,” Christie said.
In the 1990s, the state took over the schools in Newark, Jersey City and Paterson and still runs them, to mixed reviews.
“It’s easy for naysayers to point at previous school interventions and criticize why it can’t work in Camden. To them I say, the current status quo is failing our kids,” said Camden Mayor Dana Redd.
Christie said those other districts didn’t have him as governor when taken over, and that he’s finally gotten around to getting the superintendents that he wants in place in those districts.
“Every time you have different leaders in these positions, the possibility for a different result is there,” Christie said.
The other takeovers met varying degrees of local resistance. This one was welcomed today by the current school board president, the mayor and the city council president.
“Enough studies, enough talking about, enough plans, enough of all of that stuff,” said Camden City Council President Frank Moran.
“This is not politically smart, it’s not politically driven. It is driven by a deep conviction that the governor has that this is — as he said — what government is for,” said Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.
The first two things that need to be done, Christie said, are to get court approval under the 25-year-old school takeover law and then to find a superintendent with transformational skills.
He hopes serious planning for the new state-run school district can begin this summer.