How Necessary are Camden Public Schools’ Staff Lay-offs?

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Camden Public Schools’ Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard’s office issued a press release today describing the logic behind the district’s downsizing of staff  and announcing a series of “Student Listening Tours” to address student concerns (described in this Courier Post article) regarding  pending staff lay-offs. From the release:

Following a February spending freeze and $29 million in non-personnel cuts, the District recently announced a number of personnel changes in order to close a $75 million revenue shortfall. 

  • In all, 45 percent of Central Office positions were reduced, including 30 percent of positions that made $100,000 or more. Fifteen percent of school-based positions were reduced.
  •  The student-to-teacher ratio is expected to rise from 9:1 to 11:1.  All students will receive the classes and services they need.
  • On average, schools will have one or more nurses, guidance counselors, librarians, music teachers, and art teachers. Larger schools will have more. Social workers, special education teachers, and school safety officers are being maintained.

The lay-offs have prompted a series of protests and walk-outs supported by the Camden Education Association.

Faculty and students charge that the lay-offs are unnecessary, in spite of declining enrollment as one in four students choose to attend charter schools instead of traditional district schools. So let’s look at the data.

A Needs Analysis accepted by the Camden School Board in August 2012, well before Rouhanifard’s tenure (and no longer available on the district website), notes that “Camden’s per-pupil cost continues to increase as its enrollment declines, which likely indicates cost drivers have not yet adjusted to meet changing enrollment needs.” Those cost drivers include “underutilized schools, overstaffed schools, and disproportionate levels of administrative and support services.” Specifically, in 2010 Camden “had the lowest student-to-teacher ratio in its peer group at 9.6 to 1” and “ranked highest among its peer group in percentage of per-pupil cost spent on support services at 23 percent, representing an increase of five percentage points from 2009.”

How overstaffed is Camden? The DOE’s School Performance Reports include data on the ratio of students to administrators. Camden High School’s ratio is 120 students for every administrator. That’s far higher than other Abbott districts. Examples: Barringer High School in Newark has a ratio of 214:1; Trenton Central High School has a ratio of 324:1; International High School in Paterson has a ratio of 258:1; and Elizabeth High School has a ratio of 385:1.

In other words, Camden employs at least twice as many administrators per student as other comparable high schools.

Certainly, these lay-offs are a loss for Camden’s community. Superintendent Rouhanifard  notes that “this is a hard and complicated time, but we’ve continued to discuss the importance of change… this is a very hard time for everybody and we are going to work together.” He’s also recommended that students not be disciplined for participating in protests.

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