TRENTON — Senator Ronald Rice (D-28) said Monday that a compromise is unlikely between himself, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and other members of the black caucus on the state takeover of Atlantic City. The bill mandating that the city hand over control of its finances to the state Local Finance Board passed in the Senate this month, with Rice and Sweeney nearly coming to blows over the question of the majority-black city’s autonomy.
That day’s press conference announcing new legislation to mandate biannual lead testing for public schools’ water marked the first time that the two have come together since that vote.
“We as legislators should not be legislating, taking away, your authority,” Rice said of the city’s voters, echoing an argument from Senators like Nia Gill (D-34) and local officials like City Council President Marty Small, who have called the takeover tantamount to disenfranchising black voters. “We should have fought that twenty years ago when they took over the school system, we should have went to the U.S. Supreme Court,” he added of the state’s record of intervention in city school boards in cities like Newark, Paterson and Camden.
“The reality is they were run predominantly by women and minorities in those other cities, OK? And it did nothing but play games,” Rice continued. We have, in Newark, the board of education that has a $75 million budget deficit.”
Governor Chris Christie and his predecessors should be held accountable for that deficit, Rice said, not the local board members.
“If the budget is messed up, the governor messed it up. Because we have no say-so. That’s his deficit. Give us our money back,” he said. “If the governor takes over Atlantic City, and takes away the authority, the same thing is going to happen.”
Pointing to Camden, where public schools have been relying on bottled water for over ten years, Rice said that the recent uproar over schools’ drinking water only underscores the state’s ineptitude in bringing real improvements along with greater oversight. 30 Newark schools tested positive for dangerous amounts of lead in their drinking water this month.
“The state needs to take some blame in cities like Newark, because the reason is that the superintendent of the schools is a state-appointed superintendent,” Rice said. “We all have to share blame.”