The Camden school board, which thought it would have a role shaping new kinds of schools coming to the city, balked last night at the first step along the way.
The board ultimately rejected a "request for proposals" (RFP) for Renaissance Schools projects -- publicly funded (95 percent of per-pupil tax dollars) but privately run schools -- after it was told it would be voting on a basic and not final version.
Unless the board holds a special meeting to approve a final version of the RFP, the plan to have at least one Renaissance School open by fall 2013 could be delayed.
The discussion before the board's vote was tense and tempers flared from both sides -- board members and state fiscal monitor Mike Azzara, who is handling the RFP process.
"So, we are voting to release an RFP but we will not see the final RFP before it's released?"" board member Katherine Ribay asked. Azzara confirmed.
"Urban Hope advocates have been courting us and promising us the moon,… saying this is your time to have your dream school," board member Ray Lamboy said, citing prior presentations that promised board members would have a say in the entire process.
"Where's the beef here?" Lamboy asked about the generic RFP that board members considered Tuesday night.
Up to four Renaissance school could come to Camden under the recently enacted Urban Hope Act.
Azzara argued that it was better to have a generic RFP because the district should want educational entities to come in and show how they have been successful elsewhere and bring those plans to Camden.
"Because quite frankly, we have 23 failing schools," Azzara said, implying that whatever Camden has been doing has not worked. (Here is some background on those 23 failing schools- STORY.)
When it was evident that board members weren't buying the notion of a generic RFP and wanted specific language put in, an exasperated Azzara complained that he has been sought input on the Renaissance Schools plan for four months.
"Nobody has called me," he said. "Do I need to hire a van and pick you all up? C'mon give a break."
Board members plan to send their ideas for the RFP to Azzara in hopes of voting on a final draft.
The vote came after a long meeting that also featured a presentation on the new Regional Achievement Center from state Department of Education representative Bob Bumpus. The state wants to have one of its centers right in the city to better focus on the needs of the district, which houses 23 of the worse 75 schools in the state.
The presentation was met by some skepticism from board member Sara Davis, a staunch opponent of state interventions (and alternative schools such as charter and Renaissance schools.) To which Bumpus replied that the board should consider having more of a "I'd rather have it happen with us than to us," because the plan to have Regional Achievement Center work with Camden is "going to happen regardless."