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January 27, 2021

Camden to close four elementary schools due to financial issues

The 'painful' move is necessary to confront a $40 million budget deficit and declining enrollment, superintendent says

Education Schools
Camden school district Austin Pacheco/via Unsplash

The Camden City School District's restructuring plan will send 1,200 students to new schools next year. The affected students are being granted courtesy busing.

The Camden City School District will shut down four public schools at the end of the academic year, a move that will affect 1,200 students and spur as many as 150 layoffs.

Wiggins College Preparatory Lab, Harry C. Sharp Elementary, Yorkship Family and Alfred Cramer College Preparatory Lab, will close their doors in June as part of an effort to address ongoing budgetary issues, district officials said at Tuesday's school board meeting. 

The closures will leave the city's Fairview neighborhood without a traditional public school, according to the Inquirer.

Three of the four school buildings are more than 100 years old and all of them need extensive repairs, district officials said. Renovations could cost about $10 million per school, but the district does not have the funding to cover that, according to KYW Newsradio

The district is running a $40 million budget deficit that will continue each year if not addressed, school officials said. The district's debt could get as high as $400 million in the next decade.

The impacted students will be sent to other district schools with higher-quality and newer facilities. Transportation will be guaranteed.

"These decisions are painful for you, they're painful for families, they're painful for the school community, they're painful for me, but there is a necessary pain that is needed that is temporary," Superintendent Katrina McCombs said.

"I do understand and empathize with our families. However, the hard decision has to be made if we're to set our children up for success."

The plan will send all Cramer students to Henry H. Davis Family School next year. Sharp students in grades K-5 will attend Veterans Memorial Family School. Those in grades 6-8 will head to Davis.

Wiggins students in grades K-5 will attend Forest Hill Elementary School. Those in grades 6-8 will be sent to Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy. 

Yorkship students in grades K-2 will attend R.T. Cream Early Childhood Center. Those in grades 3-5 will head to H.B. Wilson Family School. Students in grades 6-8 will be sent to Morgan Village Academy. 

The district has 19 schools with approximately 6,347 enrolled students. Its enrollment is down about 50% since 2013, when it was taken over by the New Jersey Department of Education. The schools slated for closure are about 30% empty on average, officials said.

The district's consolidation plan has earned the support of Mayor Frank Moran. But many parents and families, as well as the Camden City Principals and Administrators Association and Camden Education Association, are opposed to the decision.

Camden must receive final approval from the state before the plan can be implemented.

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