HUNDREDS OF EMERGENCY REPAIRS IN URBAN SCHOOLS IGNORED BY CHRISTIE ADMINISTRATION
January 11, 2012
As Governor Christie’s shutdown of the State school construction program enters its third year, hundreds of requests by districts for emergency health and safety repairs in urban school buildings have gone unanswered for months by the NJ Department of Education (DOE) and the Schools Development Authority (SDA).
In a sharply worded letter to the DOE Office of School Facilities, Education Law Center (ELC) demands that the Department immediately advise districts whether their requests for emergent projects have been approved, and that all approved projects be sent to the SDA for completion of the repairs. Under the state facilities law and the landmark Abbott v. Burke rulings, the DOE and SDA are responsible for funding and completing emergency repair projects in urban school buildings on an “expedited basis.”
In June 2011, the DOE and SDA asked urban districts – designated as “SDA districts” under State law – to submit requests for emergency health and safety repair projects for review and action under an initiative called the “Potential Emergent Projects Program” (PEPP). In response, almost all SDA districts submitted extensive lists of health, safety and other hazardous conditions in need of emergent repair for State review. Below are just a few examples of district submissions:
● Camden submitted over 150 emergent projects, including fixing water filtration systems to provide potable water in several schools, replacing collapsed ceilings, shoring up falling structural building facades, replacing leaking roofs and boilers, and fixing fire alarm systems.
● Trenton requested approval for nearly 100 emergent projects, including replacing windows and outdated security equipment, upgrading electrical wiring, and fixing leaking roofs.
● Newark filed 128 requests for emergent projects to address a wide range of health and safety defects, including antiquated fire alarm systems, faulty and broken heating boilers and HVAC units, leaking roofs, and falling brick and masonry facades and chimneys.
Despite the urgent and compelling need, the DOE and SDA have yet to make a decision on any one of these hundreds of requests. As ELC states in its demand letter to the agencies, this failure to act “directly conflicts” with clear legal requirements in the State facilities law, DOE regulations and the Abbott rulings.
“These emergency conditions impact the health, safety and well-being of thousands of students, teachers and other staff every day,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “By failing to promptly correct these conditions, the DOE and SDA have put thousands of children, young people and adults in harms’ way. The lack of action by the State is inexcusable.”
“It is time for our Legislators, especially those representing urban school districts, to insist that Governor Christie, the SDA and DOE do what they are legally bound to do to keep our state’s most vulnerable schoolchildren from being trapped in crumbling, outmoded and dangerous classrooms and buildings,” Mr. Sciarra added.
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