The New Jersey school construction agency – the Schools Development Authority (SDA) – continues to defy a clear legal mandate to put in place rules permitting urban districts to take full control over their school construction projects.
The SDA’s refusal to follow the law has forced ELC to file its second lawsuit in the NJ Appellate Court to compel compliance.
At issue is a 2007 amendment to the NJ facilities law – the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act (EFCFA) – directing the SDA to allow eligible urban or “SDA districts” to manage the design and construction of needed school facilities projects, instead of the SDA. The amendment also required the SDA to adopt rules to implement this directive – known as “delegation” – within one year, or by August 2008.
When the SDA repeatedly refused to issue the required rules, ELC filed suit in July 2010 to force the agency to comply. In April 2012, the NJ Appellate Court found the SDA’s refusal to act had no justification, and that the SDA had acted arbitrarily and capriciously. The Court therefore ordered the SDA to adopt the delegation rules by April 18, 2012.
As ordered by the Court, SDA adopted the long overdue rules on April 4, 2012, with an effective date of May 21. However, the SDA decided, over ELC’s repeated objections, to limit the delegation of school facilities projects to only the demolition and construction portions of the project. The SDA refused to adopt rules that would allow it to delegate the planning, building design, land acquisition and other “development” components of projects to SDA districts, even though the EFCFA law clearly requires the agency to allow districts to take full control over all aspects of the projects.
When the SDA adopted the rules depriving SDA districts of the opportunity to assume control over many of the most important elements of their new school and school renovation projects – and after ELC warned the agency that such action would violate the law – ELC had no alternative but to file this latest legal action.
“The SDA has again blatantly refused to follow clear legislative mandates,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney. “Even worse, by not allowing SDA districts to plan and design their own school projects, the SDA has undermined the very purpose of the law, which is to encourage SDA districts to step forward and demonstrate that they can complete needed school projects faster and cheaper than the State.”
In this lawsuit, ELC is represented pro bono by Stephen Buckingham, a partner in the Lowenstein Sandler law firm. Mr. Buckingham has provided legal assistance to ELC since 1998 on matters related to the school facilities requirements established by the NJ Supreme Court in the landmark Abbott v. Burke litigation.
Policy and Outreach Coordinator
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