The original claim from Governor Chris Christie to seize the Camden City School District was obviously concerning to Camden residents. After all, this State take over was the third piece of State legislation within a twelve year time span that took away the residents’ governing powers. In 2002, Governor Jim McGreevey signed the Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Recovery Act (MRERA) into law which took away the governing powers of the mayor and city council. This Act was somewhat justified at the time because of the recent history of corruption charges against former Camden City mayors as well as the city’s downward economic and social spiral. The second legislative robbery was the demolition of Camden City’s police department and the creation of the Camden County Metro Police. Such a ground breaking and momentous decision was also somewhat justified at the time because of Camden’s extremely high crime rate which earned it the national label of “most dangerous American city”, as well as making up more than 50% of the city’s operating budget. And, now, of course the third piece of legislation comes after decades of the Camden City School District underperforming on standardized tests.
What makes all three legislative approaches to resurrecting Camden City unjustified is that the residents have not, and they continue to not approve of Trenton making Camden City’s decisions. What also makes all three decisions unjustified is that they all serve as temporary, painful, and politically charged bandages for the more complex issues of American poverty.
The recent layoffs of 241 school teachers and administrators will benefit nobody. Rouhanifard is the Governor’s appointed “Superintendent” and he will do as the Governor wants. The layoffs are not an effort to guide the city’s school district into an era of better fiscal responsibility. Money really is not the issue despite the Superintendent’s citing of a $75 million deficit. It’s impossible for money to be an issue in a New Jersey public school, because by law, all public schools that have operating deficits, will have their deficits closed by equalization aid provided by the New Jersey Department of Education. This has been happening for decades and it is approved every single year by the New Jersey Legislature.
It seems as though we are witnessing the avalanche of New Jersey’s failing culture of austerity through the suffering of Camden City. Over the past four years, residents all across the state have been told that they are not worth a living wage, SNAP programs are too expensive, the State needs more affordable family homes but nobody is actually going to build them, and it is really okay that New Jersey has reached a 52 year high for the number of impoverished citizens, while simultaneously increasing our millionaire population.
Rouhanifard did not need to fire the staff in Camden’s Schools, and Newark (also under State control) does not need to fire it’s alleged 700 teachers later this year. New Jersey needs to support these cities by getting them the basic essentials for what it takes to be successful both economically and academically. How are we as a society holding impoverished cities to the same academic standards as the surrounding suburbs when we’ve classified some of them as “food deserts”? How can we expect children to perform well on standardized tests when they haven’t slept in a bed for weeks? How is austerity going to resurrect an educational system when there is not even anything to take from?
If you recall in 2008, the American economy was not saved from the brink of utter collapse by cutting budgets. It took +$700 Billion in stimulus funds to keep AIG and the auto industry afloat. Now in 2014, we have AIG, Chrysler, and GM back to making profits, and in return, they are greatly contributing to the US economy while also paying back some hefty interest rates. This scenario is exactly the same for Camden and it’s schools. Unless New Jersey begins to invest in the people and make an exhaustive effort to make sure the children are getting food, there will be no economic or social return. What will continuously return is the vicious cycle of poverty that exists from not having the basic building blocks to make the school day successful. This is the same vicious cycle that prevents affordable homes from being built, a higher minimum wage from being supported (thank goodness it is law though), and the richer New Jersey residents from paying an appropriate amount in taxes.
It’s time to stop playing political poker.