Scott Weiner, CEO of the School Development Authority, announced yesterday evening that he was resigning. Said Weiner,
I just felt we had reached a point in the evolution and the turnaround of the program it was an opportune moment to bring in and recruit a long-term CEO.
The School Development Authority is the new moniker for the School Construction Corporation. In its earlier incarnation the SCC was plagued by reports of waste, corruption, and poor planning. Weiner has generally received good marks for his leadership in meeting the requirements of a state Supreme Court order to build new buildings in Abbott districts, which were labeled the 31 most impoverished districts in New Jersey.
According to the Star-Ledger,
Weiner was brought in as a special counsel to Gov. Jon Corzine in the wake of a series of critical state reviews that found the schools program had been mismanaged and wasted millions of dollars in its rush to launch school projects. The program spent hundreds of millions of dollars acquiring property, razing neighborhoods and creating architectural plans for schools the state has no funds to actually build.
We’ve got no shortage of educational disparity in New Jersey. Facilities, textbooks, extra-curricular activities, you name it — wealthier districts offer a lot more opportunities to kids than poorer district. NJ’s court-mandated solution, otherwise known as the Abbott decisions, is to sink billions of dollars into poor neighborhood school programs and facilities under the pretense that money can compensate for the disadvantages derived from, say, growing up in a non-English speaking household, or having no parents around to supervise homework because they’re desperately working two jobs, or going to daycare instead of preschool.
Money helps. But it doesn’t erase inequity.
In another blow to our flawed solution — free-basing cash to poor districts to compensate for a plethora of disadvantages — the people representing the Abbott districts got bitch-slapped in court yesterday. David Sciarra, head of the Education Law Center, argued heatedly with Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto over whether the State can institute a new funding formula which would recalculate how much money goes to Abbott districts. The Star Ledger reported today that
Sciarra argued the state has failed to prove that the new formula will not undermine the special services and increased state aid the court has demanded in prior Abbott rulings. He said those rulings should stand until the new formula is proven to be adequate.
On the other hand, when Sciarra was asked for examples of services that have been cut from Abbott districts because of the new funding formula, he couldn’t come up with any. The money is still flowing freely, and certainly there must be some strategy to overcome the vast disparities among school districts. A redistribution of wealth — the essence of the Abbott decisions — may be part of the solution. But all the new buildings in the world won’t allow a high school in Trenton to offer the same educational opportunities as a high school in Short Hills.