Camden District Under Heavy Fire

Melanie Burney and Frank Kummer, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 18, 2006

For the Camden school system, a tumultuous year ends when summer vacation begins this week, leaving a district rocked by scandal and officials trying to figure out how to repair the damage.

Superintendent Annette D. Knox faces a criminal probe, with state officials subpoenaing financial and performance records from her five years on the job.

With calls streaming in for Knox’s resignation, her tenure could end as early as this week, leaving South Jersey’s largest school system without a leader to pick up the pieces.

“The district is completely in chaos,” said former school board member Dwaine J. Williams.

At least two other investigations are reviewing cheating allegations and unusually high state test scores at two elementary schools and an elite magnet high school where the principal contends that an assistant superintendent tried to pressure him to rig 2005 math results.

Three principals have been suspended. A cafeteria worker is charged with stealing food, and two other employees admitted embezzling funds.

The district suffered another blow when preliminary 2006 state test results released last week showed elementary school scores had plummeted.

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Knox, 60, is the latest in a string of Camden school officials to face legal troubles.

Former Superintendent Arnold Webster was sentenced to six months’ house arrest for illegally helping himself to $20,000 from the district. And former board president Elaine Bey spent five months in jail for misusing $24,000 in district funds for meals, vacations and personal expenses.

A subpoena served on the district last week seeks a wide range of records on Knox’s spending and actions over the last five years.

The three-page subpoena, obtained by The Inquirer, also wants documents that back up why Knox received $17,690 in bonuses for 2004 and 2005 without the board’s knowledge or approval.

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