An NJ Appeals Court has ordered the State school construction agency, the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA), to quickly adopt rules to allow local urban school districts to take charge of designing and constructing new schools and repairing existing schools.
The rules are required to implement a 2007 amendment to the NJ school construction law – known as the Education Facilities and Construction Financing Act (EFCFA) — that would permit “delegation” of school facilities projects from the SDA to the urban districts. This means the districts could design, construct and complete their own school facilities projects in a more cost-effective and timely fashion, instead of the State, through the SDA, doing the work. Prior to the amendment, the districts were not allowed to undertake any school facilities projects directly, but had to wait for the SDA to decide if and when to carry out the projects.
Since Governor Chris Christie took office in January 2010, the SDA has not started any new, major school replacement and renovation projects in the SDA districts, even though the SDA had designated 52 major projects for funding and construction in a 2008 statewide capital plan. It also does not appear that the SDA has started or completed any of the 760 health and safety projects submitted by the districts to the SDA in June 2011 as “emergent projects.”
“The failure to adopt required rules for delegating projects to SDA districts is symptomatic of the Christie administration’s refusal to move school construction projects forward in an effective and timely manner, leaving thousands of students trapped in dangerous and dilapidated school buildings,” said David G. Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center.
In ordering the SDA to adopt rules delegating to districts the right to do their own projects, the Court noted that the Legislature set a firm deadline of August 2008 for adopting the rules, over three and a half years ago. The Court also underscored that the SDA had not presented any justification for ignoring the Legislature’s directives and could find “no apparent basis for continued delay.”
In addition to ordering the SDA to adopt the district delegation rules, the Court also took the unusual step of setting deadlines for action. Under the Court order, the SDA must adopt a previously proposed version of the rule by April 18, 2012. If the SDA decides to propose a new version of the rule, it must do so in thirty days and adopt the final rule in 90 days.
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