Camden School District Faces Layoffs Because of $47 Million Deficit

By Candace Kelley

Students at Camden High School staged their second walkout this week — again protesting plans to move or lay off some of their favorite teachers. Protesters from four other schools joined in and they all expressed the same concern.

“That they going to bring in new teachers that don’t care about us because the ones inside actually care about us,” said Niayree Burgess.

“Why would you fire someone that got you into college? That is really stupid. Why would you do something like that, especially, you had build a strong bond with that teacher,” said Karim McLaran.

Superintendent of Camden Schools Paymon Rouhanifard approved the layoffs. Two hundred six teachers in 26 schools received notices that their positions could be affected. In an emotional and heated school board meeting on Monday, Rouhanifard explained that, even after some heavy trimming, the state-run school district still has a $47 million deficit and layoffs are unavoidable, in order to close the gap.

Students from several schools meet at this park in order to protest. The park is located right across the street from Camden High School. Many students told me that just to get out of the school has been a major ordeal.

“They’re just locking everything down. We had to find all of these open passages just to get out,” added Kaliyah Green.

“We had to run around the ramp, jump over the fence, we had to do a lot just to get out,” said Anivia Sample.

Camden Education Association Acting President Robert Farmer says the plan does follow the state law and seniority requirements cited in the collective bargaining agreement. He says these aren’t layoffs, exactly — but that teachers received notices there’d be changes to their jobs. It’s part of a process called “reduction in force” — a system that ranks teachers by seniority.

“We have a seniority list that lists how many years you have been in the district. With elementary it’s how many years you have served the district and secondary it’s how many years you have performed a certain role,” Farmer explained.

Parents expressed outrage over the plans, especially since the state took over Camden’s school system last year. They say, Gov. Christie visited and told residents that the school system’s failure had nothing to do with lack of funds.

“Somebody has not been watching spending. Because they’re saying that’s its due to erroneous spending,” Farmer said.

“As long as it takes, as long as it takes. I’m going to be out here 24/7 if I have to,” said McLaran.

Meanwhile, teachers’ names will be put on what’s dubbed a recall list to see if they will be recalled to their jobs, based upon seniority.