New Jersey pledges $50M for Camden High project
CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) -- With city leaders and high school cheerleaders there to celebrate, Gov. Chris Christie announced plans Tuesday to spend at least $50 million to overhaul Camden High School, a proud building in one of the nation's poorest cities.
The building's age is one reason the school does not offer its students a better education, said Christie, who has been visiting Camden and its schools frequently. He often praises the city's leaders for their cooperation -- a contrast with Newark, where his appointed schools superintendent often attracts protest.
In 2009, the state pledged $100 million to remodel the building. But when Christie took office in 2010, he suspended all the school-building projects then underway through the state's Schools Development Authority, saying the authority was wasteful.
Camden School Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said it will be at least a few years before the building known as "The Castle on the Hill" is rebuilt.
It needs new windows and heating and cooling systems and upgraded technological features, he said.
Rouhanifard, who Christie appointed last year, said he wants to reorganize the school into four separate learning communities, including one focused on technical and vocational skills. That academy could open next year, long before the remodeling is done, he said.
The superintendent noted that the state has promised at least $50 million but it could end up spending more on the school.
Camden County NAACP President Kelly Francis said Tuesday he believes construction on the high school is a step toward turning the school over to a private management company to run. Rouhanifard said there are no plans to do that.
Critics have said the governor hasn't done enough to replace aging school buildings in cities since he took office nearly five years ago.
In 2000, the state Supreme Court ordered New Jersey to bring school buildings in the state's poorest cities up to date. The ruling in the long-running Abbott v. Burke school funding lawsuit was one of the watersheds in a series of decisions over the last three decades.
In October, a judge ruled that the Department of Education had to require a group of the state's poorest school districts to submit new facilities plans, a step needed to build or expand schools. The judge found that most of the plans were out of date.
The state spending on schools has picked up. A new Trenton high school was funded earlier this year. Schools Development Authority CEO Charles McKenna said Tuesday that a dozen projects are currently under construction in the low-income districts and more are being designed or have funding committed.