The Star-Ledger

Urban Schools In Dire Need Of Repairs, 43 Groups Tell Christie

The Star-Ledger — Friday, June 28, 2013

By Salvador Rizzo / The Star-Ledger

TRENTON — A coalition of 43 religious, minority, parent and union groups is urging Gov. Chris Christie to speed up school repairs in the state's poorest cities, where they say dozens of public schools have fallen into disrepair.

Hundreds of projects in Newark, Irvington, Trenton and other cities have been frozen for years and Christie should fast-track them this summer before children return to school, the groups wrote in a letter to the Republican governor this week.

"Every day, students in New Jersey are exposed to hazardous conditions like mold, lead, PCBs (toxic chemicals), and poor indoor air quality resulting from decades of delayed repairs and the failure to start and complete new school construction projects," they wrote.

The signers include Bishop Reginald Jackson of the Black Ministers Council, NJEA President Barbara Keshishian and Newark Teachers Union President Joseph Del Grosso, New Jersey Citizen Action Executive Director Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, and David Sciarra of the Education Law Center.

The state, through its Schools Development Authority, has to build and fix schools in its poorest cities after a state Supreme Court ruling that said all students have the right to the same quality of education.

But SDA officials say they inherited an agency with lax spending controls and have to install safeguards before releasing the bulk of $3.9 billion bonded in 2008 for repair and construction projects. An administrative law judge found in December that the agency was moving too slow regardless, with nearly 700 applications for emergency repairs awaiting action.

Mo Kinberg of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, a group of labor, environmental and community groups that has been rallying support for expedited repairs, said members have met with SDA officials three times but that the pace remains slow and Christie should intercede.

"We ask that you live up to your commitment to education by making safe, healthy, and modern public schools a priority," the group wrote. "The SDA works under your direction and we therefore send this letter to ask for your immediate attention to our children and the schools they attend."

Dozens of public elementary and high schools are century-old buildings with leaky, neglected roofs, according to advocates from Paterson and Trenton who attended a recent SDA board meeting.

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