Final Decision Rests with Commissioner Hespe
In a December 16 ruling, Administrative Law Judge Susan M. Scarola found “compelling evidence” of overcrowding in the Freehold Borough schools that has an adverse effect on “students’ ability to access their education,” and determined that Commissioner of Education David Hespe should authorize the issuance of bonds for improvements, renovations and repairs in district schools.
Judge Scarola based her decision on considerable input, including detailed district information, written public comment and oral public testimony, and a tour of district schools. In her ruling she noted that she “observe[d] firsthand the extreme overcrowding” and that the environment “did not seem conducive to effective learning.” The judge detailed evidence of “unacceptable degradations to the [district’s] educational programs” made to accommodate too many students in too little space, as well as evidence that resource limitations at the elementary level hamper the achievement of Freehold Borough students when they move on to a regional high school.
Judge Scarola noted that two bond referendums had been defeated by Freehold Borough voters, but added that the Board of Education followed the legal requirements for a petition to the Commissioner of Education to authorize bonds in the case of failed referenda but extreme need. She also explained that most Freehold residents, whether for or against construction spending, recognized the severe overcrowding and its negative impact on student learning.
“We are relieved that Judge Scarola has confirmed the merits of our case and ruled in such a manner,” said Rocco Tomazic, Superintendent of the Freehold Borough Public Schools. “This is an important first step in addressing our severe overcrowding, which is preventing our students from receiving a thorough and efficient education. We expectantly look to the Commissioner of Education to definitively finalize this matter.”
The Judge’s ruling serves as a recommendation to Commissioner Hespe to order the issuance of $32,902,400 in bonds for use by the Freehold Borough schools.
“It is incumbent on Commissioner Hespe to accept the Administrative Law Judge’s findings, which are based on ample evidence, and make sure the school district is able to provide an appropriate learning environment for Freehold Borough students,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, President of the Latino Action Network (LAN), which supported the school district’s petition for school facility funds.
“The connection between safe and adequate school facilities and successful learning outcomes is well documented, and New Jersey has been a national leader in this area,” said David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, which prepared LAN’s supporting comments. “We should not leave the students in Freehold Borough behind.”
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