I don’t know about you, but I’m frustrated and angry about the state of New Jersey school construction. Twelve years ago in 1998, the NJ Supreme Court ordered the state to build new schools in the Abbott districts [now SDA districts] to replace old, dilapidated schools. At that time Paterson had 4 schools over a 100 years old. Now we have 9 schools over a hundred years old. At Tuesday’s at the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools, we heard more of the horror stories about the cost of maintaining these antiquated schools- $45 million a year in “emergent” projects. SDA [School Development Authority] CEO Mark Larkins talked about the roof replacements, boiler replacements, crumbling walls and weakened foundations. But he could bring himself to recommend ramping up school new construction to save these costs. “It’s about economics,” Larkins said.
“No,” said Sen. Norcross, “It’s about education.”
Actually it’s about both. Good education produces good economic outcomes. We have studies that show that educated students will generate millions of dollars of economic contribution over their lifetimes. Those same studies show that our dropouts cost us money in charity care, food stamps, etc, over their lives even if they work.
And in these difficult economic times, school constuction would generate more jobs and put more money into circulation as owners and workers spent their income and pay taxes. As Sen. Ron Rice said, “It’s a no brainer.”
Now back to our situation in Paterson. We still do not have a straight story about the continued stoppage of work on the Hazel Marshall Street School. Mr. Larkin first said it was about a dispute with the contractor, then an unspecified problem on the site or maybe a design flaw in the plans. Which is it? Why aren’t we building this badly needed school as class sizes rise in neighboring School 9?
If we step back and take a longer view, at the rate the SDA is building schools, Paterson will not get the 14 schools in our 2005 Long Range Facility plan until 2026. At that rate, I’ll be retired and today’s kindergarteners will be graduating from college.
We don’t need any more patience. We need action. Now.
If you agree, join us at PEF’s Leadership conversation on Oct 2 and attend the session on School Construction. Our freinds from PEOC who led the protest at Hazel Marshall on the opening day of school will lead the discussion. See you there!