Newark and Camden School Districts In Line to Receive Hefty Private Donations

John Mooney, Founding Editor | September 2, 2015 | Education
Although exact dollar figures have not been named, state-run districts could see private largesse running to ‘six figures’

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Schools open next week in two of the state’s most-closely watched — and most troubled — districts, and both will mark it with announcements of some much-needed financial aid from outside sources.

The superintendents of the state-run Newark and Camden school districts plan press conferences this morning to announce donations in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — or more — from private benefactors, part of a trend of philanthropic help for public education.

Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf — the former state commissioner of education under Gov. Chris Christie — will be standing with the Foundation for Newark’s Future, the foundation created out of the $100 million donation to the city’s schools made by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The fund has been a prolific benefactor to the district since its launch in 2011; for instance, it came up with the bulk of the extra pay in the city’s teachers contract.

But the foundation has had a sometimes-chilly relationship with Cerf’s predecessor, Cami Anderson, and has only recently stepped up its public presence in the district, working with the city and with Mayor Ras Baraka.

District officials would not say how much money is in play, but it comes at a time when help is needed. Cerf announced last week that there remains a $15 million – $20 million shortfall in the district’s fiscal 2016 budget that has required some reductions in staffing, albeit not teachers, he pointed out.

And while Camden may not have a Zuckerberg of its own, the district will announce what it described as a “major investment” and “six-figure” amount from local business and other leaders.

The announcement said the money, which will be a matched donation, will go directly to classrooms in both district and charter schools. The city is home to what may be the boldest expansion of charter schools yet through the state’s Urban Hope Act, which allows for hybrid “renaissance schools” that are currently authorized to serve as many as 10,000 students in the district.

Camden said the investment is part of a campaign to support the public schools that includes a social media component — #AllSchoolsRise. The campaign will also coincide with the visit by Pope Francis to Philadelphia.

Still, it also comes at a time when the district is hardly flush. It announced in the spring that that it would be reducing staff by more than 30 teachers.