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LAWSUIT SEEKS TO COMPEL RULES TO ALLOW URBAN DISTRICTS TO TAKE CHARGE OF SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

Newark NJ -- July 8, 2010

Education Law Center (ELC) has brought legal action to compel two State agencies to adopt long overdue rules that would allow urban school districts the opportunity to plan, design and construct needed school construction projects in their communities.

Under prior law, all school construction projects in 31 urban districts, now called "SDA districts," could only be managed by the Schools Construction Authority (SDA), a Trenton-based State independent authority responsible for financing and implementing the NJ school construction program.

In 2007, the State Legislature amended the law to permit the urban school districts to directly plan and construct their own projects, under supervision of the SDA. The amendment was enacted to cut costs by eliminating unnecessary layers of middle management, and to increase the level of involvement of local educators, municipal officials and residents in the planning and construction of schools in their neighborhoods.

The amendment required the NJ Department of Education to establish rules to determine if SDA districts have the capacity to undertake school construction projects in their districts. The SDA must also adopt rules to determine whether eligible SDA districts can assume responsibility for the planning, construction and management of specific, approved projects.
The Legislature set a one year deadline for the adoption of these rules by the DOE and SDA, or by August 6, 2008.
Almost two years after the deadline, both agencies have yet to even publish the rules for public comment, despite repeated requests from ELC that they do so.

"After careful deliberation, the Legislature decided to allow capable districts to manage school projects in their own communities and, at the same time, reduce costly State bureaucracy," said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. "The DOE and SDA are flouting the will of the Legislature by not putting this process in place."

ELC filed this action in the NJ Superior Court, Appellate Division, which has jurisdiction over claims involving the failure of State agencies to carry out clear legislative mandates. ELC is acting on behalf of the students in SDA districts who will benefit by the renovation or replacement of dilapidated and outmoded school buildings.

ELC has asked the Appellate Division to quickly decide the case and is asking for the Court to impose a strict timetable for publishing and adopting the required rules.

ELC is represented in this case pro bono by Stephen Buckingham of the Lowenstein Sandler law firm in Roseland.

Education Law Center Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy & Outreach Coordinator
email: skrengel@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x16