Hey—look over there!

Call for longer day, school year diverts focus from urgently needed repairs, proven reforms

Published on Thursday, February 6, 2014

Trenton HS ClassroomRemember the old joke about how a first-place finisher wins a week in Siberia (or some other seemingly undesirable locale), while the second place contestant wins two weeks in Siberia?

To the students at Trenton Central High School, or any of the other crumbling schools in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie’s call for a longer school day and a longer school year in his State of the State address last month must have seemed like a bad joke. First the Christie administra­tion drops the ball on making urgently needed repairs to some of the state’s oldest school buildings, and now the governor wants children to spend even more time there?

Unfortunately, over the last four years, Gov. Christie has refused to release funds through the Schools Develop­ment Authority (SDA) to allow dozens of districts, including Trenton and Camden, to make critical health and safety improvements in buildings.

In 2008, the New Jersey State Legislature ap­proved $3.9 billion in bond financing for new school construction and repairs in the SDA Districts as well as Regular Operating Districts. Despite having the money, in 2010 Christie issued a “stop work order,” halting 52 approved new school construction projects and hundreds of health and safety projects in existing schools.

In 2011, the SDA’s school repair program was restarted by asking the 31 SDA Districts to identify “emergent repairs,” defined by the Department of Education as “so potentially hazardous that they cause an imminent peril to the health and safety of students or staff.” SDA Districts submitted 716 “emergent projects.” After taking a year to respond, the Department of Education and SDA only agreed to address 68 projects. To date, many are not done. The Christie Administration released new lists of 30 approved capital projects in 2011 and 2012. Still, construction has not started on many of these projects.

NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer, who announced a willingness to discuss the merits of a longer school day and year with the governor, pointed out that not only was school repair an issue, but so was air conditioning.

“Currently, far too many school buildings have no air conditioning,” Steinhauer noted. “Expand­ing the school year into the summer would greatly exacerbate that problem and require immediate action to ensure that every student has a safe, healthy environment that is conducive to learning.”

Steinhauer questioned why the governor was willing to study a longer school day and school year, yet recently vetoed a bill that would have investigated the merits and feasibility of requiring full-day kindergarten for all New Jersey districts.

The NJEA president also noted that the Christie administration has refused to invest the resources needed to make preschool available to at least 30,000 more students across the state.

Research on the benefits of early childhood education is unambiguous and the benefits are signifi­cant. And ensuring that children have safe, comfortable school buildings simply makes good sense. Gov. Christie needs to get his educational priorities straight.

Deplorable conditions, like these at Trenton Central High School, remain largely unaddressed by the Schools Development Authority.

First the Christie administration drops the ball on making urgently needed repairs to some of the state’s oldest school buildings, and now the governor wants children to spend even more time there?

See for yourself

To read the full transcript of the governor’s Jan. 14 State of the State address, go to www.state.nj.us/gover­nor and click on “Newsroom.”

NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer’s complete response to Gov. Christie’s remarks about education in his State of the State address.

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