For the second time in 18 months, the Newark school district has issued an emergency order closing the Wilson Avenue school and causing the reassignment of approximately 800, first-to-eighth grade students to schools outside their Ironbound neighborhood.
In April 2010, the school was ordered closed from benzene contamination, causing serious disruption to students’ educational program for the remaining three months of the school year.
The district attributes the latest closure of the school, announced over the Labor Day weekend, to “issues related to the recent hurricane,” without identifying any specific problem. The school is, however, over 100 years old, overcrowded and educationally inadequate, and has numerous health and safety defects, including persistent flooding. The latest Wilson closure appears to be caused by mold in the windows of the building, discovered during a pre-school opening inspection.
The closure of Wilson comes as the school construction program in the 31 former Abbott (SDA) districts, including Newark, enters the 20th month of a statewide shutdown of construction activity by the NJ Schools Development Authority (SDA), under directive from Governor Christie.
Since January 2010, some 52 new or renovated school facilities projects in SDA districts, including four urgently needed new schools in Newark, have been put on indefinite hold. Many of these projects are “shovel ready,” with the SDA having spent over $200 million on demolition, site remediation and architectural designs to bring these projects forward for construction.
The SDA has also refused to take any action on hundreds of applications for emergency health and safety repairs in dangerous urban schools across the state. Newark alone has over 200 emergency repair requests languishing at the SDA, many for several years. Under the state facilities law, the SDA is responsible for all building repairs in excess of $500,000 in SDA districts.
The SDA is on course to spend another $47 million on salaries, office space and overhead for nearly 300 State employees in 2011. Since the agency is effectively shut-down, it remains unclear what functions these personnel actually perform.
“The SDA is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars by refusing to advance desperately needed projects to relieve overcrowding and provide safe, up-to-date educational environments in Newark and other SDA districts,” said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director.
“Even worse, the SDA’s failure to expedite emergency repairs has put thousands of students and teachers in harm’s way. It’s time to call SDA to account for the educational damage caused to the 800 Wilson students, their families and community,” he added.
The SDA’s shutdown is not for lack of funding. The agency has over $4 billion in bond financing available to finance new projects and repairs in SDA districts.
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