Under pressure from Education Law Center and advocates, the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) will not eliminate the definitions of “emergent condition” and “emergent project” from the State’s school facilities regulations, and will maintain a procedure for the fast-track review and approval of such projects.
By taking this action, NJDOE will continue to provide a process for expedited review of emergency school repairs in poorer urban, or “SDA,” districts.
In May, the NJDOE proposed to eliminate the longstanding procedure for expedited action on emergency school repairs and to impose additional obstacles that would further delay major construction projects to replace or renovate dilapidated, outmoded schools in SDA districts.
In response, ELC, with the help of pro bono counsel White & Case, and other advocates filed extensive written comments on those proposed rules. ELC warned that the proposal, if adopted, would bring health and safety repairs to urban school buildings to a complete halt, including emergent conditions such as leaking roofs, broken boilers and crumbling building facades. ELC Director of Policy and Outreach, Sharon Krengel, and members of the Healthy Schools Now Coalition also provided testimony on the impact of the changes to the State Board of Education.
Under the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act (EFCFA), the State, through the NJDOE and the NJ Schools Development Authority (SDA), has full responsibility for financing and carrying out all school facilities projects in SDA districts, including health and safety repairs, new school construction and renovations. EFCFA was enacted by the Legislature in 2002 to implement the NJ Supreme Court’s ruling in the Abbott v. Burke litigation ordering the State to improve and upgrade the deplorable conditions in urban school buildings.
“It is important that NJDOE has decided not to eliminate the procedure for expedited action on emergent projects, especially since many urban school buildings are in serious disrepair and pose a threat to the health and safety of schoolchildren,” said ELC Senior Attorney Elizabeth Athos. “But the Department needs to follow through by working with districts to address health and safety repairs quickly, as an Administrative Law Judge ruled almost one year ago.”
“Unfortunately, the NJDOE has failed to address another major problem with its proposed facilities regulations.” Ms. Athos added. “The Department has not provided any criteria about how the SDA will put major school construction projects on its statewide strategic plan. Even worse, there is no guidance on how districts can get a facilities application approved if a project is not listed in the SDA plan. We will step up the effort to hold the NJDOE and SDA accountable for failing to construct numerous, urgently needed, new school projects, especially since the State has over $3 billion in funds available for this purpose.”
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications