Coalition: SDA needs to start fixing state’s at-risk schools; SDA defends actions

TRENTON – With less than two weeks to election day, activists championing the cause of public schools that are in deplorable condition demonstrated outside the Statehouse Wednesday to draw attention to an issue they say the Christie administration has not dealt with adequately enough in his first term.

A coalition of groups including the N.J. Education Association, the Trenton Education Association, and the N.J. Work Environment Council displayed photos of leaks, mold, warped floors and other problems at schools throughout the state, including Trenton, Paterson and Phillipsburg.

The event followed a tour early this month of Trenton Central High School by gubernatorial candidate Sen. Barbara Buono that put a spotlight on that school’s conditions, including a condemned auditorium and leaky stairwells.

The activists want the Christie administration’s Schools Development Authority to release nearly $4 billion in bond funding to get started on repairs at schools where they say students, staff and teachers are at risk.

“The governor and the SDA should be ashamed because of the conditions in some of these public schools,’’ said Mo Kinberg of the Work Environment Council.

“What message does this send?” asked Marie Blistan, a vice president of NJEA, which has endorsed Buono. Blistan criticized the inaction from SDA and the SDA’s continued stance that problems are being “addressed.”

They said this photo demonstration today is just the latest progression of a campaign on behalf of deteriorated schools that they have been waging for years.

In 2008, approximately $3.9 billion in bond financing was OK’d for construction and repairs in districts overseen by SDA, but they said that the Christie administration halted work in 2010.

The project restarted in 2011 with 31 districts’ potentially hazardous situations targeted for repairs. Eventually 68 projects were selected from a list of 716 submitted from those districts, the activists said.

A list of 30 approved capital projects was released but the coalition said to date many still are not under way.

TCHS has become something of the poster child for schools in need of repair, and 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 activists said early this month at that school and again today at the Statehouse that time is being wasted and people’s lives are at risk.

Later in the day, SDA fired back at the coalition’s charges regarding the status of work at TCHS.

“The SDA is investing millions of dollars for construction and improvements for Trenton Central High School for the benefit of the community and its students,” the agency said in a release.

“Emergent projects have already been completed, while design of the overall improvements is under way, which means large-scale construction will begin by the end of the school year when students are out of the building. 

“In the meantime, the Trenton School District continues to use its considerable state budget resources to do regular and preventative maintenance.”

Earlier story:

At TCHS, Buono bashes Christie, SDA for condition of building Coalition: SDA needs to start fixing state’s at-risk schools; SDA defends actions