The Camden City school board signed off Tuesday night on a $62,000 buyout agreement for Superintendent Bessie LeFra Young, hours before a new school board is put in place and commences the search for a new leader.
Young, a former top administrator in the Philadelphia School District who has a year left in her contract, will step down June 30 from her $244,083 job. She is receiving three months' pay and is requesting an undisclosed amount of expense reimbursements for her nearly five years on the job. The reimbursements are not part of the separation agreement and will be negotiated separately, said the district's labor attorney, Lou Lessig.
Young left the meeting before the board's vote and did not speak with reporters as she left. Following the board's unanimous approval vote, Board President Susan Dunbar-Bey read a statement that recognized Young for having "dutifully served" the district since June 2007.
"The board wishes Dr. Young the best in her retirement and looks forward to starting the next chapter in the leadership of the district," the statement read.
Camden County Executive Superintendent Peggy Nicolosi signed off on the separation agreement just before Tuesday's meeting to make it official at the state level, said state Department of Education spokesman Justin Barra.
"We're going to work closely with the board over the next several months on the search and appointment of a new superintendent," Barra said via e-mail Tuesday evening.
Young has long been criticized in the community for her chronic absence. In late January, district records showed that she had been absent from work at least 186 days — about the length of a school year — in the previous 18 months. In five years as superintendent, she has been absent at least 221 workdays, though district records show she used 75 days of vacation and personal time toward that leave.
Despite reports that Young's absences were due to sarcoidosis, Dunbar-Bey said her understanding was that Young's hip issues were the reason for much of her absence.
During Young's years as superintendent, the district has continued to perform poorly on state standardized tests, and 23 of the district's 26 schools have been put on a new priority list of the 75 worst-performing schools in the state.
In the latest Quality Single Accountability Continuum performance review, the district received failing grades in four of the five categories — instruction and program (9 percent); operations (47 percent); personnel (19 percent); and governance (33 percent). It received 79 percent in fiscal management, but that superior performance was attributed mostly to a state fiscal monitor.
When asked about the community's disappointment in Young, Dunbar-Bey said: "This district is not in the state it is because of one person."
On Tuesday, the board also approved to post a request for proposal (RFP) for the "Renaissance School Project," which, under the state's Urban Hope Act, allows nonprofit entities to construct a school, or lease privately owned land, and operate a school with 95 percent of costs coming from the district's per-pupil tax dollars. Charter schools receive up to 90 percent of per-pupil expenses.
Renaissance schools may also hire private companies, without any public bidding, for a range of services, including staffing, management, and bookkeeping.
The request for proposal — which asks for "proposals from nonprofit entities for the construction and operation of a renaissance school project in accordance with the authority granted to the board under the Urban Hope Act" — is to be advertised Friday, and a meeting for interested parties will be held May 24. Proposals will be due June 25, and the school board could make determinations on which proposals to approve as early as Aug. 28.
Though the board is allowed to select up to four Renaissance School Project proposals for submission to the state commissioner of education, board member Ray Lamboy, who led the ad hoc committee for the Urban Hope Act RFP, recommended that the board choose only two projects. Lamboy said that there were at least 10 charter schools in the pipeline hoping to open in Camden by fall 2013.
Under the Urban Hope Act, signed by Gov. Christie in January, the state education commissioner and the Camden Board of Education must jointly approve each project.
At Wednesday night's board reorganization meeting, new members Felicia Reyes-Morton and Brian Turner will replace outgoing president Dunbar-Bey and fill a vacant seat. Board member Barbara Coscarello was reappointed last month by Mayor Dana L. Redd.
The new board president, who will be picked from among members Wednesday night, will be in charge of setting up the process for selecting a new superintendent.