TRENTON – A proposed rule change in the way repairs are made at some public schools has a group that advocates for students in urban districts calling the proposal “a disgrace.”
The Education Law Center, a Newark-based group that has routinely sparred with the Gov. Chris Christie administration over education matters, is protesting the proposal it says would eliminate the practice of “expedited” action on emergency school repairs.
The group filed a written complaint to the proposed changes last week and is threatening a legal challenge if the amendments eventually go into effect, said ELC Executive Director David Sciarra.
“It’s unclear to me why they’re doing this,” said Sciarra, explaining the particular proposal would only apply to urban schools within School Development Authority districts.
ELC argues the amendments would eliminate certain time constraints for the state Department of Education to review and, more importantly, address potentially serious repair needs at SDA facilities. Ultimately, Sciarra says, the proposal would terminate the agency’s obligation to address critical repair needs.
“The only thing you can conclude is that this is part of the administration’s agenda … not to spend any money on fixing these buildings [and] letting them fall down so I guess you can make the case for charter schools or voucher schools,” Sciarra said.
“This comes on the heels of basically the department and the SDA literally doing nothing over the last nearly four years since Gov. Christie came into office,” he said. “This essentially codifies the shutdown of the school construction program.”
However, DOE asserts the amendments are merely attempts at updating regulations to reflect state law and would not alter timetables for approving and undertaking projects.
“The proposed changes address only the approval of new projects and do not in any way address the execution of projects,” said Justin Barra, chief policy and external affairs officer for the department.
“There is no change to the fact that the Department is required to review and approve all completed project proposals within 90 days of submission. There is no change to the requirement that the Department prioritize any project that poses a health and safety risk to students,” he said.
“Despite sensational language being thrown around, any district at any time is required by law to address emergencies that affect student health and safety on their own, and so these proposals will not change a district’s ability to immediately address emergencies.”