Gov. Phil Murphy has said “our number one job is to keep our kids, our educators, everybody in the school community safe.”
It’s not clear if we’ll keep that commitment.
Dustin Racioppi of North Jersey Media Group reports,
As New Jersey students and staff get ready to return to in-school learning, some –it’s not clear how many–will be entering buildings with mold, leaky ceilings, rodents, unclean water, and (especially pertinent during these pandemic times) lack of proper ventilation. Yet ‘the true extent of ventilation problems through all 600-plus school districts, not just the 31 SDA districts, is unknown because the Murphy administration has not done an assessment.’
Those “31 SDA districts” (also known as Abbotts) must be, under court order, properly maintained at state expense through the Schools Development Authority. But the SDA fell apart after a nepotism scandal in 2019 while blowing through $12 billion. Meanwhile some districts will welcome students in September into century-old buildings with “sagging roofs, water damage from leaks in the mortar, and no air- conditioning.”
Last year Murphy ordered that, prior to reopening, schools had to meet health and safety standards. With districts flush with cash from federal pandemic stimulus money, many made repairs on their own. But not all of them did.
This year the requirements for health and safety are gone, replaced by “recommendations” because Murphy lifted the public health emergency order. So children and their educators are at the whims of district leadership and a dysfunctional (actually, non-existent) state agency.
People are getting mad.
“The fact that there are schools without HVAC systems in this state, lauded as number one for education in the nation, is completely unacceptable,” wrote organizer Heather Sorge and Debra Coyle McFadden of the NJ Work Environment Council.
“I look at what’s happening at the SDA right now…I think to myself, This is one reason why we don’t have (drinking) water in our schools: because the state is failing,” said Brigid D’Souza, a Jersey City mother of two and a member of the advocacy group NJ Together.
Millville superintendent Tony Trongone says his district needs $48 million to install fully-functioning ventilation systems but only has $15 million. “We are depending on the state and the SDA,” he said. “It’s leading to work not getting done. It’s leading to inefficient buildings. They’re safe, but they’re not up to optimal use.”
— Kyle Rosenkrans (@KyleRosenkrans) August 13, 2021
From North Jersey:
A 2019 state assessment of school facilities showed that 15 of the 31 SDA districts had ‘deficient capacity’ or provided fewer square feet per student than state Department of Education standards.
The authority hasn’t put a price tag on all its needs, but spokeswoman Edythe Maier said a ‘rough order of magnitude’ estimate just to address the 17,000 seats needed in those 15 districts is $1.6 billion. And that ‘only represents some of the facilities needs within the state,’ she said.