In a tough budget year for some of the state’s biggest school districts, Camden education officials dropped the first shoe yesterday, announcing plans to lay off more than two dozen teachers next year.
The number of layoffs was well below what officials in the state-run district had first projected as a worst-case scenario, as dwindling enrollment and the growth of outside “renaissance schools” have put the city’s public schools in a financial vise.
It’s also relatively small compared to projected layoffs in two other state-run districts, Newark and Paterson, who hundreds of teachers could lose their jobs next year.
Most districts are expected to determine layoff and other “reduction in force” numbers by Friday, May 15, which is when teachers are contractually entitled to be informed of their fate.
Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said yesterday that the school system’s new incentives for early notification of retirement, negotiated in the last contract and unique to the district, is helping to avert previously projected layoffs of up to 300 teachers and staff.
Instead, 31 teachers would lose their jobs next year, he said, while another 170 or so have already opted for voluntary retirement, three-quarters of them taking advantage of new incentives negotiated in the recently approved contract with the Camden Education Association.
Rouhanifard was to officially announce the cuts at the local advisory board meeting last night.
The incentives are available to teachers with at least 10 years of experience, offering additional money for unused sick days, district officials said.
Further details of the early retirement plan have yet to be released by either the district or the union, despite repeated requests.
“While this is a really challenging process and we hate to part ways with any staff,” Rouhanifard said in an interview before the board meeting, “I do believe we are now well-positioned to help our children.”The layoff numbers are well down from last year, when more than 300 staffers were laid off, and Rouhanifard said he expects the yearly numbers will continue to decline.
“I think we are on a path to stability financially,” he said.
But there will certainly be challenges ahead. The district is expected to serve 2,600 fewer students next year, with most of them moving to the quasi-charter “renaissance schools” that are a growing presence in the district.
The new schools, each part of large charter school networks, are facing both legal and political challenge.
Rouhanifard said class sizes and programs will not be affected by the layoffs, explaining that the teacher-to-students ratio will drop slightly.