As part of the $175 million state takeover fund given to Camden in 2002, $7 million was set aside for business lease grants to stimulate business growth throughout the city.So far, less than $3 million of the business grants has been spent, the most recent and largest chunk to date being $495,990 to the nonprofit support group for the Knowledge A to Z (KATZ) Academy Charter School.
At least one Camden board member has questioned her peers' recent decisions to grant $500,000 to the KATZ charter."I feel like we haven't gotten our fair share" of housing and other neighborhood investments out of the $175 million, which is running dry, Camden resident Rosa Ramirez said. "They keep saying, 'We don't have money.' "For medical reasons, Ramirez could not attend the summer meeting in which KATZ was approved for funding but said the decision to approve money for a charter school was "terrible.""It's really expensive to open a school," said KATZ cofounder Marcella Dalsey, adding that the board looked at all funding options. The $500,000 over five years "just helps," Dalsey said Friday.
Hey, we've all got to follow our orders...Some city and state officials say that financially helping a charter school is a good thing for the city."In addition to creating jobs . . . charter schools can bring a significant amount of other economic activity to communities," said state Economic Development Association spokeswoman Erin Gold.The KATZ charter school has 27 employees, of which three are Camden residents.Another board member and Camden resident, Rodney Sadler, said last week that he couldn't remember the justification provided for helping subsidize the charter school's rent during the next five years."It was something we were ordained to do with the money," Sadler said. [emphasis mine]
That half-a-mil could have been used to repair the crumbling public schools in Camden; you know, the ones that have to take every child at any time of year no matter what, unlike the charters. Instead, a politically connected group gets funds for their charter. Nice.
Speaking of Camden and charters, what ever happened to KIPP's grand entrance into the city? Earlier this month, the Camden school board unexpectedly rejected a proposal, based on the controversial Urban HOPE Act, to bring the darlings of the reformy set into town (this despite the fact that KIPP's previous foray into Camden was a disaster). Democratic boss George Norcross was not pleased, however, and demanded another vote; I would assume he's pulled the right strings and twisted the right arms by now.
Except, as powerful as Norcross is, he can't control the weather. Sandy delayed a vote from the Camden board, and I haven't seen any indication as to when they will take this up again. Considering the importance of the vote - and considering the fact that one of the co-authors of the HOPE Act, Whip Wilson, is married to the vice-president of the Camden school board - one would think any upcoming votes would be publicly announced with great fanfare.
Unless, of course, the powers that be would rather pass this on the down-low...