The Camden City School District is laying off 31 teachers and 46 student services staffers because of budget cuts and declining enrollment, officials said Monday.
District officials, who informed affected employees Monday and are expected to announce the layoffs at the advisory school board's meeting Tuesday, also will cut 15 staff from the central office, which over the last two years has lost about half its positions.
The numbers are smaller than those Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard had offered as estimates during a hearing last month, when he cautioned that 150 to 350 layoffs might be necessary to make the $49 million in cuts needed to balance the budget.
The district laid off 206 teachers at the end of the last school year but ultimately called back about 100. This year, Rouhanifard said, he worked with the teachers' union to get early numbers for how many teachers were retiring or resigning. As a result, the district is unlikely to recall anyone laid off this time.
"It's a brutal process," Rouhanifard said Monday. "These are individuals who do a lot for the school district, and there's nothing easy about these decisions."
Representatives of the Camden Education Association, the teachers' union, did not return multiple calls for comment Monday.
Rouhanifard, appointed by Gov. Christie to lead the struggling district after the state took it over in 2013, has said officials must spend less to offset years of declining enrollment and financial mismanagement.
Student services staff can include positions such as clerks or guidance counselors. After layoffs, at least one guidance counselor will remain in each school, spokesman Brendan Lowe said, as well as at least one nurse per school.
The district is hiring teachers in several high-need departments, such as special education. Other departments, such as physical education, are overstaffed, Lowe said.
When possible, and depending on a teacher's qualifications and the district's open slots, officials said, they have tried to reassign teachers to other positions within the district to avoid laying them off.
In addition to the teachers being laid off, contracts for 47 nontenured teachers are not being renewed for performance-related reasons, district officials said. Those teachers, many of whom are in their first year of teaching, would not have been rehired regardless of budget issues, Lowe said. Twenty-one support staff also are not being hired back for that reason.
Rouhanifard said the district is becoming less dependent on the use of one-time surplus funds to cover recurring costs, which has led to financial crises in recent years.
"We believe we've taken steps toward financial stability," he said. "We're in a far better situation this year than last."
The declining enrollment in Camden's schools can be linked to the city's dwindling population, as well as to parents who send their kids to school in nearby districts. But the expansion of charter and charter-public hybrid "Renaissance" schools is also a major contributor.
This year there were about 10,000 students in the city's traditional schools, a figure that will drop to a projected 8,500 next year, officials said. An estimated 4,200 students will attend charter schools and 2,000 Renaissance schools following the district's decision to change five of the city's schools into Renaissance models.
Unlike charter schools, Renaissance schools have contracts with the district mandating that they provide wraparound services for students, such as special education and mental health support; that they guarantee seats to every child in the school's neighborhood; and that they operate in new or renovated buildings.
Some teachers and charter school opponents have criticized the Renaissance expansion, saying the schools drain much-needed funds and students from traditional district schools. The district budgeted about $58 million in transfers to charters and $39 million for Renaissance schools this year, both increases over the 2014-15 school year.
Charter and Renaissance schools receive most of the per-pupil rate for students who enroll. The district receives the remainder of that funding, which Rouhanifard has said provides more money to spend on traditional public school students.
Next year, though, only about 60 percent of the city's children will be served by the traditional public schools, those students will receive more than 60 percent of the funding that flows to the district, Lowe said.