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Public school students are "trapped" in unsafe buildings, but state officials have been doing "nothing" to address the needed repairs. Even broken-down boilers and collapsing roofs are not being fixed.
David Sciarra, executive director of the Newark-based Education Law Center, made that claim while criticizing the New Jersey Schools Development Authority during his Jan. 5 testimony before the Assembly Budget Committee.
"These kids are trapped in dangerous, unhealthy, unsafe schools every day, because (of) the school construction shut down now entering its third year. And even worse, the SDA has now – I have to say this – two years of shut down, the SDA is close to spending $90 million over the last two years on staff and overhead, many high-priced employees sitting down the street, literally doing nothing," Sciarra told the legislators.
"Nothing. They have not started or completed one single school project, and I’m not talking about major school renovation," Sciarra continued. "I’m talking about replacing boilers, roofs."
There’s no doubt that school officials across New Jersey have been frustrated with the SDA over stalled projects, but PolitiFact New Jersey found that Sciarra is still out of line to claim that "nothing" has been done to address emergency repairs.
The authority, which manages most projects in the 31 former Abbott districts, substantially completed 27 SDA-managed emergent projects during the past two years, including repairs on roofs, exterior masonry and boilers, according to SDA spokeswoman Andrea Pasquine.
"Mr. Sciarra’s statement is patently untrue," Pasquine said in an email.
Kristen MacLean, the authority’s director of communications, said those 27 projects were first identified by districts prior to Gov. Chris Christie taking office in January 2010, but the administration expedited the work.
Sciarra, whose organization represents students in the former Abbott districts, acknowledged in an email that projects started before the Christie administration have been completed. But he said it’s "a virtual ‘drop in the bucket’ when compared to the hundreds of health and safety emergency projects and the major projects stopped by the Governor's shut down."
Sciarra accused us of putting a "political spin" on his statement and advancing a "political agenda."
Now, let’s mention some specific projects in Newark and Camden.
In Newark, construction was substantially completed in 2011 on nine SDA-managed emergent projects, according to Steve Morlino, executive director of facilities management for Newark Public Schools.
Those projects included roofing work at BRICK Avon Academy; Dr. William H. Horton School; and South Street School, according to a list provided by Morlino.
Wendy Kunz, Director of Abbott Facilities Construction for the Camden school district, also pointed to a few emergent projects completed during the past two years, including replacing the roof and Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning units in 2011 at R.C. Molina Elementary School.
But those and other former Abbott districts have not received approval for hundreds of other proposed emergency repairs. Newark school officials proposed work on more than 130 emergent conditions, but they have not been approved yet to go to construction, Morlino said.
Following site visits, state officials are reviewing 300 emergent conditions identified by the former Abbott districts, Pasquine said. The districts identified more than 700 emergent conditions, but 400 of them were preliminarily rejected by the state Department of Education for not meeting the established criteria, she said.
"The results of the site visits are currently under review to identify which conditions warrant advancement as emergent projects," Pasquine said in the email. "Additionally, SDA and DOE are developing a strategy for advancing those emergent conditions that require attention."
Sciarra claimed authority employees "have not started or completed one single school project," including "replacing boilers, roofs."
Hundreds of emergency repairs proposed by school officials have not been approved yet, but the authority has substantially completed other projects during the past two years, including work in Newark and Camden.
Of course, Sciarra and school officials want more done, but claiming "nothing" has happened is wrong. We rate the statement False.
To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.
Testimony provided by David Sciarra before New Jersey Assembly Budget Committee, Jan. 5, 2012
The Star-Ledger, N.J. Assembly committee OKs private school builders, Jan. 6, 2012
New Jersey Schools Development Authority, Biannual Report on the Schools Construction Facilities Program, December 2011
New Jersey Schools Development Authority, 2010 Annual Report
New Jersey Schools Development Authority, Biannual Report of the School Facilities Construction Program, July 2011
The Times of Trenton, Emergency repairs to Trenton Central High School completed, Oct. 5, 2011
Camden City Public Schools, Fall 2011 Newsletter
NJ Spotlight, Schools Development Authority: Shovels in the Ground -- Almost, Dec. 6, 2011
The Star-Ledger, Poorest N.J. districts see schools crumble as emergency repairs are delayed, Jan. 25, 2011
Phone and email interviews with Wendy Kunz, Camden City Public Schools’ Office of Abbott Facilities Construction, Jan. 9 and 12, 2012
Email interview with Andrea Pasquine, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Schools Development Authority, Jan. 6-12, 2012
Email interview with David Sciarra, Education Law Center, Jan. 10, 2012
Email interview with Steve Morlino, Newark Public Schools’ Office of Facilities Management, Jan. 11-12, 2012
Interview with Kristen MacLean, director of communications for the New Jersey Schools Development Authority, Jan. 12, 2012
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