Camden Residents Gum Up Norcross's Plans

George Norcross must be getting exasperated: why don't the Camden locals just eat the cake he throws their way?

A lawsuit aimed at forcing the state to move ahead with stalled plans to build a traditional public school in the Lanning Square neighborhood was filed Tuesday by a lawyer for local resident Mo'Nike Ragsdale.

The suit has the potential to complicate plans for a Hope Act school on the Lanning parcel.

The school was proposed by the Cooper Foundation; the hospital's chairman, George E. Norcross III, through his family's foundation; and KIPP, a charter chain school operator.

Ragsdale said Tuesday afternoon that the issues underlying her civil suit predate plans by Cooper for a Hope Act school.

The Camden school district closed a public school on the site about a decade ago due to structural problems and eventually demolished it.

The district, which owns about a third of the site, and the state Schools Development Authority, which owns the rest of the parcel, have spent more than $10 million to ready the plot for construction of a new district-run public school.

But those plans stalled.

Gov. Chris Christie placed a hold on all school building projects when he came into office.

After the governor's moratorium was lifted, the Lanning Square project was taken off the priority list, where it has languished without movement.

Norcross, the leader of Democrats in South Jersey, has proposed building a campus of five Hope Act schools on the site, which adjoins Cooper's new medical school.

The law that created Hope Act schools was championed by his brother, state Sen. Donald Norcross.

Apparently, the people of Camden have become so uppity that they believe they should actually have a say in how the schools in their community should be run. But the NJDOE knows better: they'll change the rules on Hope Act applications whenever they want, and if the district objects, they'll threaten a state-takeover, which has really worked out just so super in Newark and Paterson and Jersey City...

The NJDOE has been secretly planning a takeover of Camden's schools for months. As reported by the Courier-Post, the scheme was developed by staff brought in under the aegis of the Broad Foundation, the California-based "reformy" group funded by billionaire Eli Broad. Education Commissioner Chris Cerf is one of the most high-profile graduates of the Broad Superintends Academy.

Camden is simply the latest prize the NJDOE has in its sights: as documents obtained by the Education Law Center reveal, the state has plans to usurp local control in cities throughout New Jersey, using outsiders' money so as to avoid legislative oversight.

There are two big questions that arise from all of this:

1) Has state control of urban districts helped? Newark and Paterson and Jersey City have been under state control for years; has it made any difference?

2) If not, how can we continue to justify the continuing disenfranchisement of the citizens of these cities, keeping them from participating in the governance of their own schools?

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