Camden’s advisory board meeting last night exploded in protest, as the state-appointed superintendent announced that more than 300 teachers, administrators, and other staff would be laid off at the end of the school year.
The layoffs had been expected, since superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard had said there would need to be widespread reductions to help what he maintains is a $75 million budget deficit.
But he was initially drowned out while trying to explain the cuts — including by a bullhorn — and instead sat through more than 30 angry and emotional teachers and others questioning the criteria of the layoffs, the nature of the deficit that is forcing them, and the vast expansion of charter schools that are contributing to the cuts.
Several were seen leaving the meeting in tears after apparently finding their names on the 15-page list of nonrenewals and reductions in force (RIF).
Distributed at the special meeting as part of the human resources report, it included 241 school-based positions, including 201 teachers, and 94 central office positions. The bulk of the cuts were in general education positions, which are suffering from enrollment drops in the district.
Christina Passwater, a literacy teacher at Whittier Elementary School, was among them. She said she was the school’s recent teacher of the year, with the highest evaluations, and saw significant gains in student assessments. She read a letter from a grandmother praising the teacher’s work for her children.
Christina Bianca, a teacher in the district for eight years, said looking at her record will show she has received all satisfactory and distinguished ratings, and met all the student performance goals that have become the latest requirement, too.
“But what you wont find out is I arrive early every day, I work Saturdays and summer programs, and the countless times I have driven to houses to deliver missing assignments and the emails and letters and cards from parents thanking me,” she said.
“I love these kids, that what I am,” she said, choking up. “Every child deserves a champion. I am that champion and yet today I’m RIF’d.”
Rouhanifard, finally speaking at the end to a smaller and quieter crowd, said the budget provided little options.
“We have to grapple with the realities of our budget, while at the same time acknowledging the tremendously successful things happening in many of our classrooms,” he said.
But he said the district was required to look at specific positions, and then apply strict requirements that say layoffs be determined by seniority. He said special education positions were spared, as were social workers and other support positions.
“It is incredibly frustrating to see high-potential staff members being affected,” he said. “In those instances, it is adhering to state law.
“This was an excruciating process and while many may think we did this willy-nilly, but we took every measure possible to take in feedback and to what our students need.”