State Supreme Court: The Murphy Administration Didn’t Bother So We’ll Do It Ourselves

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This is a press release from Education Law Center, which represents the plaintiffs who want the Murphy Administration to fully fund all building renovations and reconstruction in New Jersey’s 31 Abbot/SDA districts. In October the New Jersey State Supreme Court ordered the Murphy Administration to provide the Court with a detailed list of cost estimates for all necessary school construction projects in these districts “to ameliorate the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic” and complete emergent projects but the only response was a ballpark figure of $1.97 billion. Therefore the Court has appointed a Special Master to do the cost analysis that the Murphy Administration declined to do.

On December 15, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an order for a remand proceeding before Judge Thomas Miller to produce a detailed cost analysis of the major school construction projects included in the Schools Development Authority’s (SDA) Statewide Strategic Plan and for emergent health and safety projects in SDA (former Abbott) districts.

The order is the most recent development in a motion filed by plaintiff students in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding litigation seeking to compel Governor Phil Murphy’s administration to comply with prior Abbott rulings mandating state funding of all needed building improvements in 31 of New Jersey’s most intensely segregated and poorest school districts.

Education Law Center represents the plaintiff students in the Abbott litigation, as it has since 1981.

The latest motion was filed last January to compel the State to provide funding for over 20 major school construction projects identified by the SDA as needed, along with emergent repairs to ensure the health and safety of students and staff in existing district buildings.

On October 7, the Supreme Court directed the Attorney General to provide cost estimates for the major capital projects prioritized in the State’s Strategic Plan and for emergent projects in the SDA districts. In its response, the State provided only a “rough order of magnitude” estimate of $1.97 billion for the major capital projects. The estimate was lacking crucial cost components, including: 1) land acquisition, 2) demolition, 3) cost escalation over time, and 4) individual district logistical factors.

The State also did not provide an estimate, rough or otherwise, of the cost of emergent projects necessary to ensure the health and safety of students and staff in existing SDA district school buildings, including repairs and capital maintenance to ameliorate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result of the State’s failure to provide the requested information, the Court has appointed Judge Miller to serve as Special Master “to conduct a detailed analysis regarding the status of the cost estimates at issue, including any outstanding steps required to finalize the State’s cost estimates for the emergent projects needed in Schools Development Authority districts, and other information as is relevant to the pending motion in aid of litigants’ rights.” Judge Miller can determine the form of the proceeding and must report back to the Court within 60 days.

Calling on the State to provide the information without delay, ELC Managing Director Theresa Luhm said, “We appreciate the Supreme Court’s efforts to obtain a clear picture of the costs of priority and emergent projects in SDA districts and look forward to this final step in determining the level of support needed to meet the constitutional obligation to provide adequate facilities for the hundreds of thousands of children in these districts.”

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