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Camden becomes 4th New Jersey school district under state control

By Dave Warner

(Reuters) - Governor Chris Christie said on Monday the 12,000-student Camden school system is "undeniably broken" and made it the fourth in New Jersey to be brought under state control.

A poor city with one of the nation's highest homicide rates, Camden receives so much special state aid that it spends more than most municipalities on its students - $23,709 per student in the 2011-12 year compared with a statewide average of $18,045, Christie said. The low student-to-teacher ratio of 9 to 1 also is among the most enviable in the state.

Still, Camden has one of the worst graduation rates in the state - 49 percent in 2012, a full 37 points below the state average, Christie said. In addition, 23 of the city's 26 schools are in the bottom 5 percent of performance in the state.

"While there are some great teachers and educators in Camden, the system itself has proven undeniably broken and incapable of change on its own," Christie said.

The state will take over Camden's school system before the start of the new school year in September, choosing a new superintendent and leadership team.

While it is the fourth school system to come under state control, it is the first one to so under Christie, who frequently has been at odds with New Jersey teachers. The other state-run districts are Paterson, Jersey City and Newark.

Having four districts under state control is unusual, although California, the largest U.S. state, has imposed control over eight districts at one time or another, said a spokeswoman for the Education Commission of the States.

Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association, which represents teachers, did not oppose the move by Christie in Camden, but said: "The track record for state-run districts has been questionable at best, and NJEA will withhold judgment on the Camden takeover model until we see the details."

The state Department of Education said there is no set time frame for how long the state would retain control in Camden, and that it would be based on progress.

U.S. Census Bureau figures show more than 38 percent of Camden's 77,000 residents were below the poverty line from 2007 to 2011.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler)

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