At Trenton Central High, Buono bashes Christie, SDA for condition of building

TRENTON – The sign in the lobby of the Trenton Central High School proudly proclaims: “Welcome to TCHS: Home of

TRENTON – The sign in the lobby of the Trenton Central High School proudly proclaims: “Welcome to TCHS: Home of the Tornadoes.”

The place looks like it was hit by one.

The high school – an 81-year-old one-time “ornament to the city” – that now suffers from asbestos, mold, peeling plaster, warped floors, cracked concrete, water leaks and an assortment of unidentifiable odors, became ground zero Thursday for two not-unrelated events:

*Gubernatorial candidate and Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono toured the dilapidated school as part of her election campaign.

*The state lawmakers who represent Trenton toured as well and bashed the Christie administration and the Schools Development Authority for not releasing funds to repair a school that they said is dangerous for students to attend.

“You know you are worth more than this,’’ Buono told several hundred students, faculty, and staff assembled in front of the school Thursday afternoon.  “We know the money is there. It’s been there for more than 10 years.”

Buono was referencing more than $3 billion in which she and others said TCHS could share to address conditions that Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman called “unhealthy and unsafe.” She was accompanied by fellow 15th District lawmakers Assemblyman Reed Gusciora and Sen. Shirley Turner.

In July, the SDA did award a $3 million pre-design contract to an architectural firm to start addressing the “serious facility deficiencies’’ at the school that 1,800 students attend daily.

But for Gusciora, that is not nearly enough of an effort considering how long the school has languished and the shape it is in.

He stood in the center of an empty auditorium and pointed to a crack that ran the width of the concrete floor.

“A structural engineer condemned this room,’’ said Gusciora, adding the crack had been discovered when the parquet flooring had been removed for repairs.

“He said if you put the parquet floor back it would have been in danger of collapsing.”

In announcing the pre-design work, SDA head Marc Larkins said in a release at the time that “The advancement of this design work is the

important next step in developing the best solutions to address exterior, interior and programmatic changes that are needed to ensure a quality learning environment.”

SDA said in July that approximately $27 million in work would begin next summer. And the school district itself approved about $2.7 million in work this summer.

Yet Buono hammered today at the campaign theme that urban students are not Christie’s priority.

Weighing in on the issue was Republican Sen. Michael Doherty of the 23rd District in Warren and Sussex counties.

Doherty said in a press release issued just as the Buono tour was getting under way that according to the state Department of Education, the Trenton school district is getting more aid this year than the total for all of the school districts in Bergen County combined. He said this is the case for seven other counties: Morris, Somerset, Cape May, Hunterdon, Salem, Sussex and Warren.

Doherty said in his release that the Trenton school district is getting $227 million in total aid this year, or about $18,714 per pupil, while all of the school districts in Morris County are getting a combined $143 million in total aid or about $1,835 per pupil.

“The problem with Trenton High School must be corrected at that core level. This isn’t an issue for the political arena where Democrats like Barbara Buono are pushing to waste more of the public’s money to score points with special interest groups.”

Doherty has long railed against how schools are funded in the state budget, with some urban districts getting what he argues is a disproportionate share, and he has argued for a revised formula in which each district gets the same dollar amount per pupil.

“Rather than trying to use Trenton High School in a baseless crusade against Gov. Christie, Senator Buono and others should work toward solving the problem with that school’s physical condition.

“The Trenton school district gets more than enough state tax dollars each year from residents across New Jersey to maintain its buildings and grounds,” Doherty said.

Not backing down, Buono said of TCHS after the tour: “I’ve been in prisons that look better than this. The message this sends to the children is that you don’t matter.”

She called the condition of the school a crisis that requires immediate action. “These children have to be out of this school,’’ she said.

And she reiterated that if TCHS was six miles away from Trenton it would be a different story.

Christie’s campaign spokesman, Kevin Roberts, issued a statement after Buono’s tour that “This is just more of a desperate campaign peddling falsehoods and misinformation to score cheap political points. Senator Buono needs to deal in facts, not divisive fiction like this.” At Trenton Central High, Buono bashes Christie, SDA for condition of building