Melvin R. "Randy" Primas Jr., 62, the first African American mayor of Camden died March 1. He had bone-marrow cancer and lived in Fort Mill, S.C.
Primas was a key backer in the city's economic recovery efforts. He was first elected to City Council at age 23 and was elected mayor at 31.
On Friday, Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd ordered flags to fly at half-staff at all municipal buildings in Primas' honor.
Primas was elected mayor three times before being appointed by Gov. James J. Florio to head the state Department of Community Affairs in 1990.
After a stint as an executive for Commerce Capital Markets, then part of Commerce Bank, Mr. Primas returned to Camden in 2002 as its state-appointed chief operating officer following Trenton's takeover of the city.
He resigned in 2006 in a dispute with state Community Affairs Commissioner Susan Bass Levin over a memorandum of understanding that he refused to sign.
Primas was a friend of former State Sen. Wayne Bryant, a Camden County Democrat who is currently serving a four-year jail sentence on corruption charges for funneling millions to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in exchange for employment.
Primas was scheduled to be a witness in Bryant's second corruption trial, which began in January in Trenton. Prosecutors got the judge's permission to take a deposition from Primas because his poor health kept him from appearing in court.
A 1971 graduate of Howard University, Primas went on to become a vice president of Burger King Entities. After being elected to City Council, he became its president.
He was a trustee of Rowan University from 1993 to 1999.
Primas is survived by his wife, Bonita, and two sons, Melvin 3rd and Craig.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Laverne Williams, 65, has seen a lot of crime in Camden in her day.
Gunshot wounds, muggings, rapes, burglaries. In Camden, such assaults on the sensibilities of residents are not unusual.
Yet Williams, born and raised in Camden, said last week that the worst crime would be to let the Camden County government take over the Camden City police department as state and county officials have pushed to do in recent weeks.
City and county officials, however, contend that unless control of the department is put in the hands of the county, patrolling the streets of Camden will be too expensive and crime and violence will continue to increase.
“Camden has been named the most dangerous city in the nation year after year,” said Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. in explaining the necessity for the takeover. “The status quo can no longer be tolerated.”
The bulk of Camden’s budget, in this predominantly Black and Hispanic 9-square-mile city of 80,000, is designated for police and public safety. Each year, the price tag on those items continues to swell, even after a state takeover of the city. And each year, Camden’s annual deficit has grown as well.
According to Cappelli, the new policing system would be a regional plan that would begin primarily by policing Camden, and would expand to other county municipalities on a voluntary basis. Similar regional plans have been implemented in other states, such as Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.
He said 30 years ago Camden County’s 911 went to a regional system and most municipalities have since joined.
But the battle over whether to convert to such a system continues to be waged, with residents such as Williams viewing the move as a political maneuver that will bring in more outsiders to fill Camden jobs.
Several weeks ago, citizens such as Eulisis Delgado, Vance Bowman, Larry Gilliams, Mary Cortes and Robert Davis — known as the Camden Five — tried to “Save the Camden Police Department” by attempting to use a petition drive to put an ordinance in place to block a county takeover.
The drive aimed to prohibit the disbanding of the city police department for a county-wide police department.
The Camden Five managed to obtain close to 5,000 signatures in a first failed drive, but the petition list was thrown out on a technicality.
The same group came back within three days, managing to obtain 2,800 signatures, with enough clout to get an ordinance on the Council agenda for May 8.
But that ordinance was withdrawn by Council after a last minute drive by Mayor Dana Redd and City Council President Frank Moran to block the petition drive through a temporary restraining order obtained through the Camden County Superior Court, which set a hearing date of June 11 for the issue to be discussed.
In the June 11 hearing, the courts will decide whether to fully block the ordinance, or schedule a referendum on July 11 to let voters decide up or down on the issue of the police takeover.
Williams, a longtime activist, told City Council last week that the worst crime would have been to “negate the will of the people,” take the city’s police department away from the residents, and put the department under the operation of the county.
“We’re losing our police department,” Williams said during Camden’s Council meeting last week. “For what? It’s the politicians. I’m sick and tired of it.”
Williams was referring to the fact that Mayor Redd and Councilman Moran have sided with the county in its bid to take over the city police.
Redd and Moran have said they are aligned with county and New Jersey Governor. Chris Christie in what they say is a bid to help “streamline” government to make it more efficient and save costs.
Those opposed, like FOP president John Williamson, say the reorganization and takeover of the Camden police department is nothing more than “union-busting” and that it would be bad for the public because experienced officers would be replaced with inexperienced ones on the streets.
The plan would disband the current department and call back potentially 49 percent of the current force. Hiring less than half of the original force would avoid the provisions of an expired contract, county officials said.
The effort to take over Camden’s police department began after police unions and the city failed to agree on negotiations and compromises in this impoverished city, which depends on the state to fill 70 percent of its budget.
The impasse contributed to the layoff of 168 officers — nearly half the department — in January of 2011. Some were rehired, but 80 to 90 officers have left the force for retirement and other reasons.
The plan would begin as a metro division that would police only Camden, thereby raising the number of officers on the street from the current 280 to around 400.
Camden regularly ranks among the nation’s highest-crime cities.
The plan, which has been under study for several months, could reduce costs while keeping salaries at current levels and making the department more effective.
Under an agreement with the state announced last August, the county has until Sept. 30 to submit a plan to the state Department of Community Affairs for reorganization.
Some officials say crime may be edging up as a result of layoffs already in place.
Camden County prosecutor Warren W. Faulk, in previous published reports, has said it is hard to pinpoint a cause and effect.
“We can’t make a direct connection between the layoffs and that increase,” Faulk said, “but those assaults give you the impression they feel emboldened that there is not a police officer around the corner, or within earshot.”
The layoffs of nearly half the department in Camden took place at a time when some said residents were beginning to feel safer. In the last two years, Camden recorded fewer than 40 murders, significantly less than the 54 murders of 2008, when the city was ranked the most dangerous in America, according to a widely quoted survey.
Then a $14 million deficit in the Police Department’s budget, combined with failed union negotiations, led to the layoffs, which left Camden with 204 police officers, its smallest department since 1949.
Forced to restructure the department after the layoffs, Chief Thomson demoted many of his senior officers to patrol duty. As other cities reckon with budget deficits and mounting pension costs, he says he believes his counterparts in other cities will find themselves working under the same constraints as he now does.
Local NAACP head Kelly Francis and former councilman Ali Sloan El, two of those spearheading the drive, argue that the move is merely an effort to tighten county machine control over the city.
“It’s all about power and control,” said Francis.
The police department has been under state control. Nonetheless, problems in the department have persisted.
According to Francis, “There are no figures [for the takeover]. No plans. The only plan is that they have to lay off 51 percent of the current officers to negate control of the union. It’s union busting. That way the contract will be null and void.”
John Williamson, president of Camden’s Fraternal Order of Police, the city’s largest police union, said no one on the current force has less than 12 years of experience.
“You’re going to take 12 years of experience in dealing with what we deal with and totally eliminate it to bring a new police force in,” Williamson said. “To me that’s turning Camden into an occupied territory.”
According to Francis, “The other 36 municipalities want no part of it.”
Though officials could not be reached before press time, officials in those other municipalities, according to recent reports, fear they will be left holding the bag in Camden, paying to police Camden while the number of officers patrolling their towns would shrink. County officials deny that would happen.
It’s now three years into Camden mayor Dana Redd’s first term. In another year she is slated to stand for re-election.
So far, this quiet unassuming chief executive has taken some of the boldest gambles of any mayor ever to sit behind her desk. Those risks include a controversial plan, which has gained national attention, to disband her own police department and outsource its operation to the county government.
At least one expert has said he has never seen a police change done this way, especially in a city commonly labeled as “the most dangerous” in the nation.
“I don’t know that this has been done before,” Louis Tuthill, a criminal justice professor of Rutgers University said in a recent published report. “I have never heard of it.”
Redd eagerly agreed last week in an interview, but added that radical surgery was necessary in a radically challenged city.
“No, this has never been done before,” said Redd of the change which will effectively fire her entire current department in a city routinely called poorest and most crime ridden in the nation. “Because it’s never been done before, we’re being watched nationally and statewide.”
In the midst of Redd’s stunning political high wire act, some observers are predicting that she is also gambling with her chances for re-election next November.
So far, the public safety proposal has hit a number of politically sour notes that have the potential of turning the whole thing into a political albatross to hang around her neck come election time.
The city has fielded complaints from residents, not only about efforts to disband the department, but about the current level of police response time — which some say has dipped and become nearly non-existent since the announcement of her plan.
“I’m hearing horror stories,” said former Camden mayor Aaron Thompson, who contended that police response time has taken a nose dive despite the continued soaring crime rate and murder rate in the city.
“I hear complaints that people call, and the police never show up. Fortunately, I’ve had no need for police,” said the former politician, who is now in his 80s. “I seldom see a police officer on the street.”
Another former mayor, Gwendolyn Faison, said there is little guarantee the new arrangement will work.
“There’s no information on the track record of something like this,” she said.
One barometer of success pointed to by skeptics is that despite the fact that the new department is supposed to be regional, very few of the other townships in Camden County have been willing to sign up for it.
Redd admits that transplanting a new county-run police department into the city of Camden has turned into a painful and sometimes messy process.
“Like any surgery, it’s messy,” Redd agreed. She conceded that sometimes the patient - in this case, the city - feels that things are getting worse. But, she said, until the transplant is in place, you won’t know the outcome.
In the meantime she said that many residents she has spoken to are eagerly awaiting the new department.
“They’re asking when are we going to get our new department,’” said Redd.
She said Camden “can’t arrest our way” out of its current record high homicide rate and soaring crime rate. She said she simply wants to stabilize the city’s crime statistics so that a more holistic approach can be used in addressing problems.
Her proposal calls for dissolving the current 260-member municipal police department to form a 400-member regionalized police department, based in Camden with a “metro division” to focus on the city. The proposal calls for the closure of the current 141-year-old department and the creation of a new, cheaper agency to be run by the county, one that will put more boots on the ground. One way the new regionalized police department would save money is by doing away with the existing union-negotiated police contract.
The messiness seemed to get worse last week when the FOP, which represents the current officers on the force, voted 142 to 62 against a county package that would have dismissed litigation against Redd’s new plan.
So far Redd’s new bold experiment has left quite a few heads shaking. Even NAACP state president James Harris has expressed misgivings about the changeover.
In brief remarks, Harris called the plan to dismiss the Camden Police Department as “wrong” and “unjust.” and pledged his organization’s full support.
“The NAACP will use all of our resources to stay on this issue, and to bring national attention to the disrespect and the unreasonable approach to bringing about police reform in the city of Camden,” Harris said.
“Do not eliminate the Camden Police Department. Find ways of improving it, but do not eliminate it,” he urged.
John Williamson, president of the Camden FOP, representing Camden’s police, refused to speculate on how firing the police department would impact Redd’s political future, other than to argue that Redd was on the wrong side of what he called a “civil rights issue.” Williamson argued that civil rights entered the picture since Camden is one of the most diverse police departments in the state - with one of the poorest and largest minority populations.
Though under intense political fire, Redd remained unfazed in a recent interview about her term of office..
“We need to do something bold and creative,” Redd said of her plans. “We cannot move the city forward unless we address public safety.”
Former councilman Ali Sloan El, who has helped to spearhead opposition to the new police plan, said Redd had better look to her own re-election possibilities.
Sloan El, who calls himself “the People’s Champ,” said that opponents of the plan are betting that a court ruling this April will allow a referendum on the ballot next November on the issue of the police outsourcing. If the referendum gets the green light from the courts, he said, it will be on the ballot at the same time Redd was running for re-election.
According to Sloan-El, even with her current strong support in the city’s Democratic machine, the opposition stirred up by the referendum could spill over into Redd’s popularity, and leave a bad taste in the mouths of voters who would normally support her.
“It’s going to be hard for her,” said Sloan-El last week. “The referendum will set up whoever opposes her. Whoever opposes her will have a chance because of the referendum.”
Sloan El , who spent time in prison for a corruption conviction while a councilman, said that besides the cops referendum, there will also likely be a change-of-election referendum that will ask voters to support a change from current partisan elections. That would mean candidates would run without party labels and without overt party backing, a process that could help underdogs and independents.
Sloan El believes the ripple effect from voter support for such a referendum could splash back on Redd’s administration as well, whether she is re-elected or not.
“I don’t make my decisions based on [my] re-election prospects,” Redd said. “I’m not positioning myself for re-election. I’m just doing what I think is best for Camden.”
She said her record will speak for her.
“We’ve been stepping,” she said. “In three years, I think we’ve done six years of work.”
In a city often accused of mismanagement and waste of taxpayer dollars, Redd has had three straight years of budget reductions and awards of $69 million and $61.4 million in Transition Aid to Localities from the state. State officials also praised her for “demonstrating fiscal prudence.” And she has accomplished this in a climate in which three previous mayors have been indicted on corruption charges.
Redd is dismissive of those who complain that she is giving away her power by handing control of the city policing to the county. She believes she is empowering herself to do more by handing over police operation to the county.
“What’s the good of all that power if it’s not effective in solving the problem?”
Camden Mayor Dana Redd is going where few mayors have gone before.
The quiet, unassuming municipal leader is firing her whole police department -- in the most dangerous and impoverished city in the country.
Redd plans to replace Camden's current battle-tested veterans with a group of officers hired through the Board of the Camden County Freeholders. Over 1,000 expressions of interest have come in from potential applicants after applications went out in mid-October. The applications are being processed by the freeholder's office. Freeholders are the equivalent of the county commissioners in other states.
As recently as 2008, Camden had the highest crime rate in the U.S., with 2,333 violent crimes per 100,000 people, while the national average was 455 per 100,000. The county seat of Camden County, and just across the Delaware river from Philadelphia, the 9-square mile city of 77,000 has been routinely labeled the poorest and most crime-ridden city in the nation.
Redd, in the third year of her first term, says her move to outsource Camden police to the county will cost taxpayers less in police union benefits and will put more "boots on the ground."
"We need to do something bold and creative," said Redd, as she at a table in her office. In orange scarf and green camouflage blouse, she looked serene, despite the urban powder keg that critics contend exists right beneath her office window, and the sometimes vicious political struggle she waged recently with her police union. Only 20 minutes before the interview started, residents reported a shooting only blocks away from City Hall on 27th Street.
The move to replace police, often seen as sacred cows in most municipalities, has met with resistance, including lawsuits and protests.
Camden Fraternal Order of Police President John Williamson questioned Redd's motives, hinting that the move may be tied to the current anti-union sentiment rife in the state's Republican governor's office, where Chris Christie holds sway.
"This is just a form of union-busting," Williamson told the Tribune. "This whole thing is unproven and untested. It's an experiment with the lives and safety of Camden residents."
Redd, a staunch Democrat in a Democratic stronghold, rankles at such accusations, claiming she fought tooth and nail to find a better deal for Camden police.
"I can rest at night knowing I've gone above and beyond the call of duty to try to get concessions from the unions prior to the layoff deadline," she said.
While Redd lauds the additional resources that the new regional department will bring to fight crime in her city, critics point out that half or more of the 401 officers that will be brought in under the "metro division" will be greenhorns, unfamiliar with Camden turf.
Training of the new recruits is expected to take five to six months, once replacements have been selected.
Redd said she takes full responsibility for the new arrangement, no matter how many critics claim that she is merely a puppet, taking orders from the heavyweight powerbrokers in the state's political arena, like Democratic fundraiser and party boss George Norcross III, and Republican Gov. Christie.
Redd said the buck stops at her desk and her only boss is arithmetic -- numbers that add up.
"At the end of the day when all is said and done, it will be my name on this decision, not George Norcross' or Chris Christie," she said.
According to Redd, her situation is similar to what Barack Obama inherited, in that her own legacy has been tied to a wrecked administration that appeared to have been driven into a ditch before she took over. After several years of a state takeover of the city, the city's budget gap jumped from $9 million to $69 million.
She said that money spent on Camden is not wasted, as many believe. According to Redd and other officials, without Camden, property values would plummet in places like Voorhees and Cherry Hill.
Even much of the city's crime comes from the suburbs.
A recent survey during a program called Operation Padlock found that 90 percent of the buyers of drugs each day came from the suburbs, though the dealers lived in the city. Drugs are a second economy in Camden with an annual income estimated to be the size of Camden's municipal budget. That drug flow fuels much of the city's violence.
"We don't believe we will be able to arrest our way out of the problem," Redd has said.
She said she was not giving up on reducing crime. She was just changing strategy. She emphasized that the streets will have to be safe if the city expects to attract enough business to survive. “We cannot move the city forward unless we address public safety,” she said.
In her unprecedented move to abolish the Camden police department, is Camden Mayor Dana Redd straying onto the wrong side of civil rights for her residents and her police department?
A barrage of complaints from the NAACP and numerous residents claim the popular Camden mayor, while working to clean up the city's image, is denying Camden residents their constitutionally guaranteed right to redress. NAACP officials contend that Camden is being treated like no other city in the state because of its overwhelmingly Black and Latino population.
Meanwhile, Redd has denied there is any violation of civil rights and contends most residents she has spoken with eagerly support the plan.
Rallies, protests and petitions have sprung up around the issue over a police department that, in recent years, has also changed from predominantly white to predominantly Black and Latino.
"This is an experiment," said one NAACP official at a recent rally against the plan outside Redd's fourth floor office at City Hall. "This cannot stand. [City and county officials] do not have right to fire police in the most dangerous city in the country."
Camden, long ranked as one of America's poorest and most dangerous cities, is disbanding its current police force and replacing it with a new county-run regional force. According to Redd, the plan will cost $7 million less to operate, and the additional monies saved could used for other programs.
But residents like Dwaine Williams and others complain they have not yet seen a budget for the force.
"It's been well over a year and I have yet to see a plan that makes sense."
Mark Willis, a self-employed businessman in Camden, said he had yet to see a county plan either, despite layoffs already underway in the current department. Willis was outraged by plans to disband the municipal police department in favor of a county department.
"What kind of city gives up its police department?" asked Willis. "This is the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on a population in America. The blind are leading the blind."
James Harris, president of the New Jersey NAACP said that what is happening in Camden under Redd's administration was as bad as the South in the 1960s.
At the City Hall anti-abolition rally Harris said the police problem in Camden had outgrown the city and become a national issue.
"This problem has left Camden," said Harris. "It is now a national issue...We have representative from the national office looking into this."
According to Harris, 3,000 of Camden's 77,000 residents signed a petition calling for a referendum on the issue. Harris said that despite the thousands of signatures on the petition the Redd administration's legal team went into court and blocked the referendum. The residents are now appealing the issue.
At the same rally where Harris spoke, a national representative of NAACP also weighed in. Marshal Taylor, deputy director of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund urged Camden residents to continue to fight.
Harris called for the "Emancipation of Camden," which he hinted was facing a new form of slavery caused by "bossism and corruption of leaders."
Mayor Redd has said in the past that she believes she is doing the right thing for the residents. In a recently published quote she said she was seeking to restore the rights of Camden citizens, not take them away.
"I will not allow our rights - the right to live free of fear, the right to allow our kids to play safely in front of their homes, the right to walk to the corner bodega, the right to live - to be glanced over just because we call Camden our home," Redd told a gathering of businessmen discussing Camden's future at the Adventure Aquarium.
In the NAACP statement to the freeholders, Kelly Francis said what is going on in Camden should be of concern not only to Camden residents but residents throughout the surrounding area.
"The process and impact of dismantling the Camden City police department should be a matter of deep concern fo rall communiities, but especially those of color in the Camden area."
Added Harris: "This is a civil rights issue of our time - if the [local government]can overrule the constitution and fire an entire police department without the will of the people being heard."
Hikers, bicyclists and outdoor enthusiasts are being asked to support a new campaign — Connect the Circuit — to enhance and complete a network of trails extending into nine counties in Central Pennsylvania and New Jersey through a project announced this week by a group called the Circuit Coalition.
“It will become one of the signature hallmarks that make Greater Philadelphia unique,” said Jeremy Nowak, president of the William Penn Foundation, a member and major backer of the 17-member coalition, calling the planned network of trails “The nation’s finest … providing non-motorized access from the Appalachian Trail to the Atlantic Ocean.”
Officials with the coalition hope to raise awareness of the trails as they work to connect existing trails and build new ones.
The group’s name stems from the network of trails, some as long as 44 miles, that crisscrosses the region. It was recently dubbed the Circuit in a regional naming contest and now officials are hoping to raise funds to enhance and to complete the project.
In addition, they have rolled out an interactive website to help users plan their trips.
Hopes are that the trails will draw all sorts of people to the region. In addition to extolling the health benefits of the trail, officials said the trails would provide an economic benefit for the area.
“Connecting the circuit of trails in our region makes the Greater Philadelphia region a stronger, smarter and more sustainable urban and suburban environment, and attracts new companies and employers who choose to base their operations here,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “Investing in trails will help grow and strengthen the region in addition to connecting it.”
Camden Mayor Dana Redd agreed.
“The Camden Greenway will join the Circuit if trails connecting our residents to riverfronts, open space, regional job opportunities and transportation alternatives,” she said.
Over the past two years, the trail movement has gained momentum with the infusion of federal and local funds. A U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant provided $23.2 million for local trail development. Another $5 million came through stimulus money, and the William Penn Foundation contributed $10 million.
As it announced its campaign, the Coalition rolled out a website that allows users to plan trips, access maps and other activities available along the trails. It is available at www.connectthecircuit.org. The site features a social networking component and encourages conversation about the trails and its attractions.
“As a child, I used to ride these trails for fun,” said David D’Alba of the city’s Fairmount section. “Today, I tow my daughter along one of these trails as part of my commute to work. I hope as she gets older, and the Circuit becomes more complete, she too will have the opportunity to enjoy these trails.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced a state takeover of the troubled Camden school system this week.
Christie informed city officials that the state will assume control of both the educational and financial management of the schools. Under a state-run system, the local school board will have an advisory role. The state will also choose a new school superintendent. The state take could be in place in six to eight weeks. The district has 20 days to respond.
“The system is broken, and we need to take responsibility for fixing it,” said Christie at a news conference Monday at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden.
If approved the state will assume control of a district in which 90 percent are in the bottom 5 percent in New Jersey. Less than 20 percent of fourth-graders are proficient in language arts literacy, and just 28 percent of 11th -graders are proficient in math.
Once approved, Camden would become the fourth urban school district under state control, after Paterson, Newark and Jersey City. This would be the first state takeover initiated by Christie.
The Republican governor’s plan has some bipartisan and local support, including Camden’s Mayor Dana Redd and some city and school officials.
In a statement, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Gloucester County Democrat, said, “We recognize this is a dramatic change, but its time has come.”
Redd expressed optimism about the takeover.
“We recognize as leaders that we have an obligation to give children a real chance to succeed,” she said.
The state’s largest teachers’ union expressed some reservations about the planned takeover.
“It is always preferable to have public schools managed by local communities, and the citizens of Camden must be assured that they will continue to have a strong and respected voice in reforming a public school system that meets the needs of all Camden students,” said Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association. She said the association will withhold judgment until it sees more details.
The state’s desire to takeover Camden schools raises several questions.
Where is the evidence that a state takeover has made a difference? Where have previous state takeovers led to sustained improvements in the students’ academic success? Have state takeovers led to better management or improved fiscal control? Locally, has the state takeover of Philadelphia schools led to significant improvements?
According to the New York Times at least 20 states have taken control of local school districts in the past two decades.
Jersey City has been under state control since 1989; Paterson since 1991 and Newark since 1995. The track record has been questionable.
Urban school districts remain largely poorly run and funded, regardless of whether they are under local or state control. A state takeover will not make that much difference unless school districts undergo real proven educational reforms such as improved teacher effectiveness, increased parental involvement and engagement, better district management and increased funding.
CAMDEN, N.J. — The state of New Jersey moved to take over the Camden school district Monday, seeking to fix what officials said is a broken system that allows thousands of students in one of the nation's poorest cities to fail each year.
Gov. Chris Christie's administration filed the first legal paperwork necessary to assume control of a district in which 90 percent of the schools are among the bottom 5 percent in performance statewide. The district has 20 days to respond. Christie said the intervention could be complete as quickly as six to eight weeks, but it could be challenged in court.
"We're taking the lead because for too long the public school system in Camden has failed its children," Christie said, flanked by the mayor and some school officials at a news conference held at a high school.
Inaction, the Republican governor said, is "immoral."
Once approved, Camden — a crime-plagued city of 80,000 across the Delaware River from Philadelphia — will be the fourth urban district in New Jersey under state control. The others are Paterson, Jersey City and Newark, the state's largest city.
Camden's four-year graduation rate in 2012 was only 49 percent. Of those who do graduate, only one out of four do so by passing the state's high school exam. Only 2 percent of students score 1550 or higher on their SATs, a metric defined as indicating a high likelihood of college success and completion.
"The system is broken, and we need to take responsibility for fixing it," Christie said.
The state is already the main funder of the Camden school system. Christie said an August report assessing the needs of Camden's schools convinced him that more needed to be done in the city, which has 16,000 schoolchildren, including 4,000 in charter schools.
A transitional leadership team will immediately begin a 90-day review of all school operations, the administration said.
Once the state's takeover plan has been approved, the governor said he would appoint a new superintendent. A search is already under way, and the state plans to work within that system. It will also appoint three additional members to the school board, which will become advisory.
Christie said the state would also move to revamp curriculums, begin a search to put full-time teachers into slots now occupied by a rotation of substitutes, and ensure that every child has the necessary books and instructional materials.
The plan could also include a portfolio of new charter or Renaissance schools.
"We will exert whatever control we need to exert in order to bring success, Christie said, but stressing that he sees the intervention as a "partnership" between the state and city government and school officials.
In its request to the state Board of Education for full intervention in Camden, the state said the school board and school administration failed to effectively run the schools.
The application said the poor outcomes in Camden are not the result of a lack of resources. The city, which receives special state aid because of its poverty, spent $23,709 per student in the 2011-12 year, compared with a statewide average of $18,045.
Christie said the state would "be happy" to be involved in collective bargaining and said he did not speak with unions before moving to intervene in Camden. The state's largest teacher's union expressed reservations about a takeover.
Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association, said that the track record for state-run districts is "questionable" and that Camden residents must be assured they will have a voice in the process.
"It is always preferable to have public schools managed by local communities," she said.
Rosemary Jackson, a Camden teacher, said she believes the state hasn't adequately funded the schools and she thinks the plan will fail.
"They have yet to talk to parents, yet to talk to teachers," Jackson said.
Ahmad Muhammad, a father of eight children in the school system, came to the announcement opposing the move. But listening to Christie changed his mind.
"I'm hopeful," he said. "It's worth a chance."
Mayor Dana Redd said there will be a series of community meetings to inform people of changes.
"The current status quo is failing our kids," Redd said. "We cannot wait any longer." -- (AP)