A day after the state Department of Education sent the Camden School District a letter citing the district's failure to report more than 76 incidents of violence and vandalism in the last two school years, Camden's police chief met Thursday with the district's head of security.
It was the first step in the right direction, said Gaylen Conley, executive director of the district's office of safety and security.
"We are increasing interactions with Camden City police" to ensure that they and the district are in constant communication, Conley said.
After a Camden Courier-Post article in December called into question the district's reporting of violent incidents, the state sent a team to investigate the district's use of the Electronic Violence and Vandalism Reporting System (EVVRS) and found that many incidents had gone unreported.
Schools were using various paper forms, many reports lacked details needed to properly categorize incidents, and some information sent to the district's administration office never found its way into the EVVRS system.
The state interviewed school administrators and employees during its Jan. 20 visit. A nurse at Woodrow Wilson High told state officials that between September 2009 and June 2010, there had been 77 fights, one gang fight, six assaults, and five incidents of drug possession at the school, none of which appeared in the database.
"The team found that schools were often correctly classifying incidents and forwarding report forms to the central office, but the central office did not enter the data," the state said in its letter to deputy superintendent Reuben Mills.
Neither Mills nor recently returned Superintendent Bessie LeFra Young returned calls seeking comment.
Conley said he could not discuss the state's findings because he did not work for the district during the period in question. Conley was hired in July after years in the Philadelphia School District.
"When you have changes in leadership," he said, "sometimes you have system breakdowns."
Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd did not receive the state's eight-page letter until The Inquirer sent her a copy late Thursday. She did not comment directly on its findings.
"The mayor is reviewing the letter," city spokesman Robert Corrales said by e-mail, "but as she has stated previously, someone should be held accountable for inaccurately submitting the EVVRS report to the state."
School board member Sean Brown said he, too, hoped someone would be held accountable.
"It's unfortunate that the DOE investigation had to show it, something that has been going on for a while," Brown said.
The state's letter simply lists recommendations for improvement, including properly training school employees in using the EVVRS system. But New Jersey Education Department spokesman Justin Barra said the lapse by the district would result in lost points on its annual state Quality Single Accountability Continuum assessment.
A poor showing on the assessment can trigger a partial or full takeover of a district by the state.
The Camden district has until March 1 to submit a plan addressing the state's concerns.