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1-15 & 16-12 Education Issues in the News
Star Ledger - PolitiFact N.J.: Education advocate crosses the line in criticism of school construction program...Politifact.com – The Truth-O-Meter Says False

Star Ledger Column: Moran - Demand for top N.J. charter schools exceeds available seats

Star Ledger -  PolitiFact N.J.: Education advocate crosses the line in criticism of school construction program

By Bill WichertThe Star-Ledger: Monday, January 16, 2012, 9:25 AM


Politifact.com – Star Ledger - The Truth-O-Meter Says:

Says over the last two years, New Jersey Schools Development Authority employees "have not started or completed one single school project, and I’m not talking about major school renovation. I’m talking about replacing boilers, roofs."

David Sciarra on Thursday, January 5th, 2012 in testimony before the state Assembly Budget Committee

Education advocate claims New Jersey officials "have not started or completed one single school project” in the last two years

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Public school students are "trapped" in unsafe buildings, but state officials have been doing "nothing" to address the needed repairs. Even broken-down boilers and collapsing roofs are not being fixed.

David Sciarra, executive director of the Newark-based Education Law Center, made that claim while criticizing the New Jersey Schools Development Authority during his Jan. 5 testimony before the Assembly Budget Committee.

"These kids are trapped in dangerous, unhealthy, unsafe schools every day, because (of) the school construction shut down now entering its third year. And even worse, the SDA has now – I have to say this – two years of shut down, the SDA is close to spending $90 million over the last two years on staff and overhead, many high-priced employees sitting down the street, literally doing nothing," Sciarra told the legislators.

"Nothing. They have not started or completed one single school project, and I’m not talking about major school renovation," Sciarra continued. "I’m talking about replacing boilers, roofs."

There’s no doubt that school officials across New Jersey have been frustrated with the SDA over stalled projects, but PolitiFact New Jersey found that Sciarra is still out of line to claim that "nothing" has been done to address emergency repairs.

The authority, which manages most projects in the 31 former Abbott districts, substantially completed 27 SDA-managed emergent projects during the past two years, including repairs on roofs, exterior masonry and boilers, according to SDA spokeswoman Andrea Pasquine.

"Mr. Sciarra’s statement is patently untrue," Pasquine said in an email.

Kristen MacLean, the authority’s director of communications, said those 27 projects were first identified by districts prior to Gov. Chris Christie taking office in January 2010, but the administration expedited the work.

Sciarra, whose organization represents students in the former Abbott districts, acknowledged in an email that projects started before the Christie administration have been completed. But he said it’s "a virtual ‘drop in the bucket’ when compared to the hundreds of health and safety emergency projects and the major projects stopped by the Governor's shut down."

Sciarra accused us of putting a "political spin" on his statement and advancing a "political agenda."

Now, let’s mention some specific projects in Newark and Camden.

In Newark, construction was substantially completed in 2011 on nine SDA-managed emergent projects, according to Steve Morlino, executive director of facilities management for Newark Public Schools.

Those projects included roofing work at BRICK Avon Academy; Dr. William H. Horton School; and South Street School, according to a list provided by Morlino.

Wendy Kunz, Director of Abbott Facilities Construction for the Camden school district, also pointed to a few emergent projects completed during the past two years, including replacing the roof and Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning units in 2011 at R.C. Molina Elementary School.

But those and other former Abbott districts have not received approval for hundreds of other proposed emergency repairs. Newark school officials proposed work on more than 130 emergent conditions, but they have not been approved yet to go to construction, Morlino said.

Following site visits, state officials are reviewing 300 emergent conditions identified by the former Abbott districts, Pasquine said. The districts identified more than 700 emergent conditions, but 400 of them were preliminarily rejected by the state Department of Education for not meeting the established criteria, she said.

"The results of the site visits are currently under review to identify which conditions warrant advancement as emergent projects," Pasquine said in the email. "Additionally, SDA and DOE are developing a strategy for advancing those emergent conditions that require attention."

Our ruling

Sciarra claimed authority employees "have not started or completed one single school project," including "replacing boilers, roofs."

Hundreds of emergency repairs proposed by school officials have not been approved yet, but the authority has substantially completed other projects during the past two years, including work in Newark and Camden.

Of course, Sciarra and school officials want more done, but claiming "nothing" has happened is wrong. We rate the statement False.

To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.


Star Ledger Column: Moran - Demand for top N.J. charter schools exceeds available seats

Published: Sunday, January 15, 2012, 7:38 AM

By Tom Moran/ The Star-Ledger, Published: Sunday, January 15, 2012, 7:38 AM

Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-LedgerWhile they call out some of the couple hundred of numbers of children who are on the wait list for kindergarten at the Learning Community Charter School, Tsahay Burston holds he daughter Sanaa, 3. They were waiting for them to call out numbers for the 3rd and fourth grade for hopefully getting spots for Sanaa's brothers Tyler and Terry. Burston realized that she was going to have a wait but said it was worth it for a good education for her children. She currently has her 3 kids in private school and she says the tuition rivals her mortgage.

The dreaded night came on Thursday this year. The grim weather — a chilly drizzle as night fell — seemed fitting for what was sure to be a grim evening.

This was lottery night at Learning Community Charter School in Jersey City. The K-8 school had 30 openings to fill.

The problem: Roughly 1,000 families applied to fill them. Hundreds of them streamed into the auditorium to watch the process live, even though results soon would be posted online.

On stage, a volunteer pulled orange tickets out of a wire basket, one by one, after spinning it to assure the audience that this was indeed random. Nearly all of them were destined to go home disappointed.

An immigrant from Haiti found his number was deep on the waiting list and his shoulders sagged. “I’ll move, probably to Linden,” he said.

A Muslim woman, covered head to toe in black garb, shook her head as she prepared to leave, defeated. “I don’t like the regular schools,” she said. “It’s not safe.”

And Bernadette Schery, a nursing student, said she came because she hopes that her 4-year-old son, Sebastian, will become a doctor someday. And since more than half the graduates from this school are later admitted to elite magnet schools and private schools, she was taking a shot.

She didn’t make it, either. “I was surprised there were only eight seats for pre-K,” she said. “That really blew my mind.”

New Jersey has 80 charter schools today and, if Gov. Chris Christie gets his way, dozens more will open in the next few years.

That worries some people. They say conventional schools might suffer if charters lure away too many ambitious families. They say some charters find underhanded ways to enroll kids who are wealthier and smarter than the average. And they cite statistics showing that charter schools can fail, too.

“We have a large number of persistently low-performing charter schools,” said Bruce Baker, an associate professor at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. “We have to be honest about that.”

Grant them all of that. But the flip side is places such as the Learning Community, which spends roughly 60 percent as much as a conventional school in Jersey City, and achieves much better results.

Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-LedgerLottery numbers are listed representing the couple of hundred children who are on the wait list for kindergarten at the Learning Community Charter School.

You can see that in the test scores, where kids in this working class West Side neighborhood are beating the state average on reading and math, and leaving the city average way behind. And you can see it in the number of graduates moving on to elite high schools.

But the most convincing evidence was the people’s verdict on Thursday night. Families of every race and creed streamed into that auditorium, voting with their feet.

Schery, the nursing student, sat on a fold-out chair in the back row with her husband, Frank Reyes, and their two young sons.

Reyes also has a sixth-grader in a conventional Jersey City school and is frustrated that his repeated attempts to engage his teachers have been rebuffed.

“I asked his four teachers for their e-mail addresses to stay in touch and only one would give it to me,” he said. “If the public schools are losing active parents, it’s their own fault.”

Both parents worry about violence in the regular school system, and for good reason.

Last year, Jersey City schools reported 148 acts of violence, 55 of them involving weapons. Add to that the fights that aren’t reported and the weapons that aren’t found.

“That’s a huge concern,” Schery said. “You have fights all the time.”

Still, the main reason they want their boy to enroll is that they want him to step higher than they have.

“When I am studying to be a nurse, my son keeps saying ‘I want to be a doctor, Mommy,’ ” she said. “When we go to the doctor, he actually enjoys it and asks how everything works.”

A charter school, though receiving less money, has some built-in advantages. The most important one is probably the ability to hire its own staff, rather than take whatever the central bureaucracy sends.

“I make all the hiring decisions, with the help of the teachers,” said Janet Ciarrocca, the principal. “We are smaller, and I have more freedom on curriculum, as well.”

So are charters the answer? Sadly, there are no magic wands in education reform. Some charters are awful and, while the state closed down two of them this year, that’s probably not enough.

And yes, some undoubtedly game the system to filter out the toughest cases. That needs to change, too.

But when you look at the long waiting lists for the good charter schools in several cities, it is hard to argue with Christie’s call for more. The thirst for something better is profound and it hasn’t been met.

“It’s heartbreaking, every year,” Ciarrocca said.

“We work hard to make the process fair, but every parent has a story about why they want their child to have a good education.”

And if we don’t honor that in America, then we really have lost our way.



Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608