In a decision issued June 13, NJ Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf agreed with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that the Office of School Facilities (OSF) in the Department of Education failed to comply with state law requiring prompt action to expedite repairs of emergent conditions in high poverty “SDA districts.”
Commissioner Cerf upheld the ALJ’s findings that the OSF violated the Educational Facilities Financing and Construction Act (EFCFA) by taking over nine months to perform on-site inspections to verify the emergent condition, and then taking many more months to prepare the necessary reports for the Schools Development Authority – the State construction agency – to issue contracts to complete the repairs.
In upholding the ALJ’s ruling, the Commissioner found that, in handling district requests for emergent repairs, the OSF “did not comply with” the EFCFA and the Department’s own regulations.
The Commissioner ordered the OSF to complete the necessary reports to address dozens of long-pending emergent repair projects “no later than August 31, 2013.”
The Commissioner’s decision is the latest ruling in a legal action filed by Education Law Center on behalf of students in “SDA districts,” challenging extensive delays by the OSF to review and approve applications for emergent repairs filed by these districts in June 2011. The case also challenged OSF’s failure to “promptly” transmit approved emergent projects to the SDA for construction.
In December 2012, ALJ Ellen Bass ruled the OSF violated the “clear” legal requirement that applications for emergent projects “be approved or disapproved within ninety (90) days.” Judge Bass also found that, for 70 projects approved as emergent, the OSF failed to prepare a Preliminary Project Report (PPR), including project costs, and promptly forward the PPR to the SDA to undertake and complete the repair work. The PPR is required before the SDA can begin the necessary work.
The legal action on emergent projects is part of a broader ELC initiative addressing the failure of the administration of Governor Chris Christie since 2010 to finance and build much needed school construction projects in SDA districts, including new construction, major school renovations, and emergency repairs.
The New York-based law firm of White & Case is providing pro bono counsel to ELC on facilities issues, and attorneys there argued the successful case before ALJ Ellen Bass.
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