Camden, NJ Takeover Upheld

Published May 1, 2003

On March 18, at the Mercer County Courthouse in Trenton, New Jersey, Superior Court Judge Andrew J. Smithson upheld the constitutionality of a state takeover plan, originally passed last July, for the city of Camden and its public schools.

The law, which had been challenged in four separate lawsuits, puts a state-appointed officer in charge of the city government’s daily operations, infuses $175 million into the local economy, cancels the April school board elections, and gives Governor James E. McGreevey ultimate control over the largest school district in South Jersey.

Camden Councilman Ali Sloan El, who had challenged the constitutionality of the plan, said an appeal and federal lawsuit were planned. He had argued the takeover strips power from elected officials and takes away the residents’ right to vote.

There’s also overwhelming evidence that state takeovers do not work, said Derrell Bradford, communications director for Excellent Education for Everyone, a pro-voucher grassroots group based in Newark. He pointed out that Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson all are being returned to local control after more than a decade of failed state management.

“This disenfranchises parents from the school governance process,” said Bradford. “The suspension of school board elections and the reconstitution of the board as one where the elected portion is perpetually a minority is indicative of the problem: The power resides in all the wrong places.”

Bradford faulted the state for not considering the unanimous resolution of the city council last summer, which called for a school choice program. (See “Camden Is First to Call for Vouchers,” School Reform News, September 2002.) He said the program would have made additional monies available to Camden’s public schools while providing encouragement for reinvestment in Camden by offering $6,000 vouchers to parents.