The issue of school construction was front and center at a December 17 hearing of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools. Charles McKenna, the Christie- appointee heading the Schools Development Authority (SDA) provided a “year- in- review” update on that agency’s activities including a status report on the major active construction projects pending before the agency. McKenna, CEO of the SDA for the past year has been credited with moving school construction projects forward after years of SDA inaction. A listing of active SDA projects is available at www.njsda.gov.
In 2008, the State Legislature passed legislation authorizing $3.9 billion in new funding for the SDA to address construction needs in the 31 special needs districts, formerly known as Abbott districts, but currently referenced as SDA districts in the context of school construction. The SDA manages and funds 100 percent of eligible project costs in these districts. Additionally, the 2008 legislation allocated $1 billion to assist non-SDA districts with their construction needs. These so-called Regular Operating Districts (RODs) work in partnership with the SDA to fund and address their facilities maintenance and construction needs. (For more information, click here.)
As a result of the legislation’s approval, the Authority has adopted a New Funding Allocation and Capital Plan consisting of 52 school projects. It is advancing 26 SDA District projects that were deferred for construction in April 2007 due to a funding shortfall that was unknown when the projects were approved in July 2005 by the New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation (SCC), the SDA’s predecessor agency. It also will build 26 additional schools. The 26 newly selected schools come from a statewide prioritization plan, based on educational need, which was created by the N.J. Department of Education.
In addition to McKenna’s overview on SDA activities, the Joint Committee heard from invited witnesses including the Superintendent of the Freehold Borough School district concerning overcrowding issues and the facilities needs of his district. David Sciarra of the Education Law Center asked the Committee to work with the SDA to provide a thorough public accounting of the SDA’s projects and activities, to review the agency’s spending history, (including the agency’s administrative costs on projects) and to develop a current school construction needs assessment for New Jersey.
For more information on school construction in New Jersey, visit www.njsda.gov.