New Jersey Will Take Over Schools in Camden, Christie Says

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said the state will take control of the Camden school system’s administration and finances to turn around a district where less than half of all students graduate.

Christie, a Republican running for a second term, said his administration will begin petitioning a court to approve the plan, which he said should be in place before the next school year. The governor said the state will also help search for a new superintendent for the Philadelphia-area district.

Camden, the nation’s poorest city and home to Campbell Soup Co., the world’s largest soup maker, becomes the fourth New Jersey school system under state control. Newark, the state’s most populous city and biggest school district, became the first takeover in 1995. The state has since taken similar steps in Paterson and Jersey City.

“This system is broken, and we need to take responsibility for fixing it,” Christie, 50, told reporters today at the city’s Woodrow Wilson High School. “The situation, I believe, is dire, and it’s so far gone that we’re at the breaking point.”

Forty-six percent of students graduate and 90 percent of Camden’s 26 schools are ranked in the bottom 5 percent statewide, Christie said. The district is funded primarily by the state, which sends $280 million a year there, he said.

State Funding

Because most of Camden’s budget comes from Trenton, Christie said full details of increased financial control are still being worked out. Under a state Supreme Court order, New Jersey is required to funnel additional resources into the schools because Camden is one of the 31 poorest districts in the state.

Since taking office in 2010, Christie has scrapped with the statewide teachers union over cuts to education, an overhaul of tenure guidelines and merit pay. Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association, said Camden’s residents have the union’s “undying commitment” during the takeover.

“It is always preferable to have public schools managed by local communities, and the citizens of Camden must be assured that they will continue to have a strong and respected voice,” she said in a statement. “The track record for state-run districts has been questionable at best, and NJEA will withhold judgment on the Camden takeover model until we see the details.”

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