Don't you just love how all these people are going to lose their jobs, but we're really supposed to feel bad for the guy who's firing them?
There's also grim humor to be found in Rouhanifard's excuse for gutting the district's staff:
Oh, please -- let's not pretend for one second that what's happening in Camden is inevitable. The dismantling of Camden's public school system was planned years ago, and that plan was funded by a California billionaire with an ideological agenda.
In many ways, the takeover and impending dissolution of Camden's public schools is a textbook case of how to privatize a district:
2006: The state appoints a fiscal monitor for the Camden district after members of the Legislature are shocked -- shocked, I tell you! -- that a city that has been under the thumb of a political machine for years might have some corruption.
2007: The board appoints a new superintendent with the monitor's blessing.
2008: The district cuts staff as part of a budgetary freeze.
2009: The district faces more staffing cuts.
2010: The city faces more layoffs.
2011: The district makes further cuts while simultaneously increasing the police presence at its schools. The district felt it had no choice but to pay for the police itself as half of the police force had been laid off in the previous year.
2013: The state takes over the district. Gov. Christie installs a very young superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard, who has never run a school, let alone a school system.
2014: Rouhanifard announces another round of layoffs.
2015: Rouhanifard announces yet another round of layoffs.
2016: Rouhanifard announces yet another round of layoffs.
Understand: Rouhanifard's job at the NYCDOE was to go around New York and close neighborhood schools so they could be replaced with charters. Obviously, this is why then-Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and Christie picked him for the job: he knows how to dismantle a public school system and turn it over to privatizers.
Which has been exactly what has happened in Camden. Even as the state monitor, and then Rouhanifard, oversaw the systematic defunding of Camden's schools, the state allowed charter schools to grow with little to no oversight.
The state gave a charter to a school operator who pretty much destroyed the Chester, PA public school system while engaging in some highly questionable practices that resulted in sanctions against the school's officials.
The state allowed a charter to expand that also engaged in several highly questionable practices, yet always seemed able to draw more financing for its expansion. The lack of transparency about this school's operations is, in a word, stunning.
The state gave a plot of land that was supposed to be used for a new district public school to a charter operator that has dictated the terms of its enrollment, refusing to serve students in grade levels it doesn't want to enroll. This operator, incidentally, already tried and failed to run a successful charter school in Camden. It's also worth noting that when members of the Camden school board tried to stand up to this plan, they were summarily punished and removed.
The state allowed district buildings to be used to colocate charters, then stood by as the charters renovated only the parts of the buildings they occupied. Which meant the children enrolled in the charter had air-conditioning, while the children enrolled in the district school were stuck in dangerously hot classrooms.
Rouhanifard sadly lamented that there was nothing he could do:
Yes, it is: the people who actually run Camden decided that charter schools get financing and aid and support, while the public district schools go begging. Those who live in the city and object to this state of affairs are patted on the head and then promptly ignored.(3:50) Guys, I want to respond to your questions and concerns; it's hard to do that when everyone's shouting over me. And I'm happy to let you all shout over me for 90 minutes straight if that's what you want to do.What I'm trying to communicate to you is that these are not easy decisions to make. And we're doing this because the district and their finances can't renovate this building the same way one of our partners can. And that's a financial decision.
So here we are in 2016: the parents of Camden can "choose" to send their child to an unsafe school with lead in the water, or they can "choose" a charter school that is not under democratic control, not subject to the same standards of transparency as public district schools, more likely to hire inexperienced teachers who are of a different race than their students, and abrogates the rights of students and families.
This did not happen by accident. Let's pull this post of mine from 2012 out of the memory hole:
A couple of bombshells dropped out of the NJ DOE yesterday. First, from Kevin Shelley at the Courier-Post:
CAMDEN — A secret Department of Education proposal called for the state to intervene in the city’s school district by July 1, closing up to 13 city and charter schools.
Let's reiterate this because it's important:The intervention proposal, which was obtained by the Courier-Post, was written by Department of Education employee Bing Howell.He did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.Howell serves as a liaison to Camden for the creation of four Urban Hope Act charter schools. He reports directly to the deputy commissioner of education, Andy Smerick.Howell’s proposal suggests that he oversee the intervention through portfolio management — providing a range of school options with the state, not the district, overseeing the options. He would be assisted by Rochelle Sinclair, another DOE employee. Both Howell and Sinclair are fellows of the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation. [emphasis mine]Kinda like Old Faithful at this point. The proposal calls for the usual round of school closings, because instability is just so freaking great for kids living in difficult conditions. But here's the part that's going to raise eyebrows:
• Control the school board by taking away members’ ability to vote for at least six months, plus adding three state-appointed members. Place all hiring and firing decisions in the hands of the state Board of Education• If a superintendent vacancy happens during state intervention, the commissioner would recommend a replacement with confirmation by state board.• Increase charter schools and attract charter management organizations such as those run by the KIPP chain. Send Camden students out of district to choice and vocational schools.The proposal also calls for passage of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a proposed corporate tax credit scholarship bill. This would be used to send children to religious schools and private schools, including boarding schools.
Howell also said the state should partner with Teach for America, Knowledge is Power Program and The New Teacher Project . The three programs have or had links to Broad Foundation board members Wendy Kopp (TFA), Richard Barth (KIPP) and Michelle Rhee (formerly of TNTP and a TFA alumna). [emphasis mine]
Years ago, the NJDOE, with funding from California billionaire Eli Broad, developed a detailed plan to privatize Camden schools. That plan has been methodically implemented. Nothing that is occurring in Camden's schools is happening by accident -- it was all planned.
And none of these plans were ever approved in a democratic process by the people of Camden.
Why is that, do you think?
In New Jersey, democratic control of schools is reserved for affluent, white communities. All others will have their "choices" made for them.
This is a brazenly racist state of affairs -- can anyone honestly say otherwise?
What worries me is that after this grand experiment in replacing democracy with market "choice" fails, someone is going to have to clean up the mess. Someone is going to have to provide all of Camden's children with an education. But the trail of destruction left behind is going to be so great that fixing Camden's public schools will be an even more massive challenge than it is right now.
Of course, by then Chris Christie will be gone, Eli Broad will have moved on, and Paymon Rouhanifard will be off to his next gig. They may by then have returned control of the district to the people of Camden...
But what will they leave behind? I'll leave the last word to Stephen Danley, who has come to know Camden as well as any researcher:
via Stephen Danley