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Camden school budget pared down

The $340 million spending proposal could still result in program cuts and the loss of about 200 staff positions.

With a state-imposed deadline looming two days away, the Camden school board last night approved a pared-down $340 million budget that could result in program cuts and the loss of about 200 staff positions.


however, was the operative word. Board members said they wanted district staff to review the budget proposal submitted to them last night to see whether there were ways to save money and minimize loss of staff.

The board plans to meet again Thursday night to go over specifics of the budget.

Among the proposed reductions were cutting the adult-education program and the district environmental center. Among the numerous positions that might be cut are administrators, guidance counselors, social workers and attendance officers. Another proposal called for relocating two schools, MetEast and the Creative and Performing Arts High Schools.

Two weeks ago, the state Department of Education put the district under a partial spending freeze and ordered it to submit a revamped budget by June 11. The $355 million budget the district had submitted earlier called for an additional $19.5 million from the state. The state, however, indicated it was standing firm on its $279.5 million aid package, a 2 percent increase over the previous year.

At a school board meeting on the budget last week, business administrator James Devereaux told the board the district had $6.3 million on hand, which brings the amount needed to be trimmed down to $13.2 million. He came up with suggested cuts and asked school principals for their recommended reductions.

The 15,400-student district has been under state oversight since 2002.

In the discussion that followed last week, Devereaux and Superintendent B. LeFra Young made disclosures that called into question how the district was using and managing its staff and financial resources.

Young said there were discrepancies in staffing at the various schools. Some schools, for example, had more vice principals than they needed, she said.

At MetEast High School, an alternative school where students attend classes some days and go to internships or mentoring other days, Young said that staff was on site full time but that the students were there only two days a week.

"We're paying them a full salary, but they're not actually connected to their students three days a week," Young said.

"What do they do?" board member Jose Delgado asked. "They can be tutoring other students."

Devereaux said the district pays the Boys and Girl Club $375,000 a year for purposes like holding gym classes, but he suggested that the facility is underused by the district and that alternative sites should be explored, such other district schools.

Board President Sara Davis objected, saying, "I appreciate your creativity, but I think if we start bringing different parts of the city together, there's going to be problems."

Other board members disagreed.

Also disclosed was that OSHA had ordered the district to do corrective work on windows at Camden High School.

In addition, Devereaux told the board last week that the district had a cafeteria deficit of more than $4 million, due in part to not charging students who don't qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches. "We have to start charging those students ASAP," he told the board.

Last night, the deficit figure was amended to a little over $3 million.