Gov. Chris Christie chatted up first graders, and shook hands with Jr. ROTC cadets as he barnstormed through the city promoting his “Camden Promise Initiative” — a consortium of more than 15 different agencies now in partnership with the state.
“This partnership is creating a comprehensive continuum of services designed to help prepare young people in Camden to succeed – from cradle to college and a career,” said Christie.
Flanked by Camden’s mayor, schools superintendent, police chief and other officials — Christie described a program that would expand and coordinate services for students and families. A Neighborhood Family Success Center with tutoring for kids and support for parents; Baby’s Best Start, with social outreach to get newborns off to a healthy start; Born to Read, with help for kids to read at grade level and a Virtual Grocery store, that will let families go online and order healthy food from ShopRite.
“We all know that we have challenges here – as every community has challenges. But these are challenges that we’re beginning to confront and to correct – and to be able to once again to provide real potential for confidence and hope in the future of this city,” said Christie.
Christie staunchly backed his hand-picked superintendent’s decision to downsize the school district’s payroll — despite student protests against any teacher layoffs.
“You have to “right-size” the district of Camden. And we simply have too many personnel for the number of students that we have. Secondly I would love to be able to do reductions of force differently but the teachers’ union prevents us from doing so,” said Christie.
Some students here quietly disagreed.
“I think the teachers should stay – cause there’s are a lot of people that grow great bonds with the teachers,” said Karim McLaren.
Down the street, meanwhile, a noisier handful of protesters shouted criticisms of both Christie and the school superintendent, parents calling it nothing but politics — and demanding full state funding for public schools.
“What we’re saying today is – Gov. Christie has to go. He’s a bully in the state of NJ and we are tired of it,” said Ronsha Dickerson.
“There’s no communication between what’s going on with them, and what’s happening with us. I’m a parent of a child who has a learning disability and up until two months ago, I had no idea what as going on in our district,” said Elizabeth Ortiz.
To underscore his commitment to Camden, Christie spent much of his day visiting schools here. The mayor calls Camden his “second home.” But critics say it’s all a show, nothing but smoke and mirrors.