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7-20-12 Cerf's nomination for Ed Commissioner to be heard next week...School Construction and SDA under the gun
Star Ledger - Senate panel to take up Cerf's nomination as education commissioner..."The Senate Judiciary Committee next week will consider Christopher Cerf's qualifications to lead the state Department of Education, a job he has been doing for nearly two years with the word "acting" attached to his title..."

NJ Spotlight - Schools Development Authority: Progress or Peril?...SDA counts 10 capital projects moving ahead; others see a stall

Star Ledger - Senate panel to take up Cerf's nomination as education commissioner

Published: Thursday, July 19, 2012, 4:06 PM Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2012, 4:26 PM

By Jessica Calefati/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee next week will consider Christopher Cerf's qualifications to lead the state Department of Education, a job he has been doing for nearly two years with the word "acting" attached to his title.

Gov. Chris Christie first nominated Cerf to the post in December 2010, four months after firing his first education commissioner, Bret Schundler, who lost his job in the wake of an embarrassing error that cost New Jersey $400 million in a federal education reform competition.

Cerf has been essential in rolling out Christie's education reform agenda. Last year, he began a teacher evaluation pilot program — the rating system that could soon be linked to teacher tenure. This fall, he will begin pressuring the state's lowest performing public schools to improve or risk loss of some federal funds.

Cerf's nomination first hit a snag because of a practice known as senatorial courtesy.

The unwritten rule allows state senators to block gubernatorial appointees who reside in the counties they serve from ever being considered. State Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) invoked the practice to block Cerf, who owns a home in Montclair.

In January, Cerf said he had moved to an apartment in Montgomery, a town in Somerset County represented by a Republican state senator who said he had no reason to block Cerf's appointment. Cerf changed his drivers license and car insurance to reflect the new address, he told reporters at the time.

But then Cerf's appointment hit another snag. In an interview with the Asbury Park Press in February, Cerf stumbled over his words when asked where he lives.

He responded "Montclair," before correcting himself and saying "Montgomery."

This public misstep upset some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and his appointment stalled again. Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) could not be reached for comment about the timing of his decision to consider Cerf's appointment.

Cerf has previously said he "splits" his time between the Montclair home he shares with his wife and children and his Montgomery apartment. The amount of time a resident must spend at a particular address to consider it a primary residence is unclear.

Cerf could not be reached for comment on his nomination.

 

NJ Spotlight - Schools Development Authority: Progress or Peril?...SDA counts 10 capital projects moving ahead; others see a stall

By John Mooney, July 20, 2012 in Education

The Schools Development Authority yesterday tried to put the best face on its progress, announcing plans for more emergency work and detailing the status of 10 ongoing capital projects that are moving ahead.

But the challenge for the beleaguered agency remains that none of the large projects are actually in the ground yet, leading to another number that the Democrats are starting to trot out.

“To date, the SDA has not started to build one new school in the last 34 months,” said state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), a longtime critic of the SDA’s sluggish pace.

The authority's streak could end next month, when it says it will break ground on a new elementary school in Long Branch. It would be the first new school actually under construction since Gov. Chris Christie effectively shut down the court-ordered program and revamped its leadership and operations.

In the meantime, the SDA is relying on small steps to demonstrate that its work is indeed moving forward, a problem that not only faces political criticism but is starting to draw some legal challenges as well.

Yesterday, the news was that the SDA had agreed on eight more emergency repair projects, fixing everything from leaking roofs to falling masonry to obsolete boilers. On top of 40 emergent projects completed in the past two years, SDA officials contended that this administration had done more emergent work than any previous one.

“This Administration is equally committed to repairing and rehabilitating existing school buildings as it is to rebuilding those that need to be replaced,” said Marc Larkins, the SDA’s chief executive, in a statement.

In addition, the SDA released a list of 10 major projects that were advertised for work or awarded contracts in the past two months, saying that the major construction that the SDA was created to complete is beginning to move ahead again.

The projects where either contracts were awarded or advertised in the past two months are the following:

·         Camden -- Morgan Village School Demolition

·         Elizabeth -- Elizabeth High School Construction Phase 2

·         Jersey City -- ES #3 Early Site Preparation

·         Jersey City -- PS #20 Early Site Preparation

·         Long Branch -- Catrambone Elementary School Construction

·         New Brunswick -- A. Chester Redshaw Elementary School Design-Build

·         Newark -- Oliver Street Elementary School Early Site Preparation

·         Paterson -- Marshall Street Elementary School Early Site Preparation

·         Paterson -- PS #16 Demolition

·         West New York -- Demolition of the Warminster Building (part of the Harry L. Bain project)

Yet SDA officials said even the announcement of the new emergent work is not a guarantee that those projects will start this summer. It's now up to the local districts to determine schedules and do the actual procurement.

“It really depends on each project, depending on a number of factors such as whether children need to be out of the building,” said Edythe Maier, a spokeswoman.

In addition, the SDA will be doing 20 of its own emergent projects, but those are still in the final review stages, officials said.

The Christie administration has been under legal challenge over the slow progress on the emergent work, with the Education Law Center of Newark, an advocacy group representing low-income students, filing suit against the state Department of Education for failing to move the projects.

More than 700 projects in all have been listed by districts as being needed. The SDA and the education department winnowed that list to 76 this spring.

The ELC has led the Abbott v. Burke litigation that led to the school construction program in the first place, and its director, David Sciarra, yesterday decried any claims that the SDA was making progress.

"What SDA does work hard at is keeping urban school children trapped in crumbling, dangerous buildings, so the Christie Administration doesn't have to spend any money,” he said. “I pray that no child or teacher in these buildings gets injured or killed because of SDA inaction."

Many of the new construction projects are still a long way from seeing actual beams go up, with seven of the 10 listed projects either site preparation or demolition.

The Camden demolition, for instance, is of a school that was already replaced. And the West New York demolition of an old factory may not even clear the way for a new school, as talks are underway to renovate the existing school and not move onto the new site at all, officials said.

Norcross has led legislative hearings to press the SDA officials on their pace of work, including last month, and he conceded he wasn’t sure what to do next. He said that the SDA may have once required some reforms, when a rush of work led to charges of waste and mismanagement.

“But now we’ve gone to the other extreme, where nothing is going out the door,” he said.

 Published: Thursday, July 19, 2012, 4:06 PM Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2012, 4:26 PM

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828



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