Emergent Repair Fund for Schools Exhausted

By Brenda Flanagan

“It’s really hard for parents to send their kids to schools that are run down as bad as these schools are,” said Parent Organizing Council President Linda Reid.

That’s because going to school in Paterson can get nasty, according to parent rep Reid.

“You walk on the floor and all you smell is peppermint. And I said, ‘Why the peppermint?’ And they said, ‘It keeps the mice away,’” she said.

Mice and rats, she says. Some schools in this state-run district got new computers — but still lack the modern electrical wiring required to use them.

“So if you plugged in the air conditioner and had the computer on at the same time, something’s gonna go. You’ll blow a circuit,” Reid said.

“You have parents who send their kids to school in the winter time. The boilers don’t work, there’s no heat in the classroom,” said Paterson Board of Education member Corey Teague.

“Buildings with leaks, broken walls, cracks, ceilings peeling. This kind of thing that has to be addressed,” said Paterson school board member Jonathan Hodges.

School board members like Hodges and Teague say they’d hoped New Jersey’s School Development Authority had approved what are called “emergent” repairs: problems that aren’t immediately life-threatening, but go beyond just basic maintenance.

“We have 54 schools that we operate and out of that 54, there are 13 at least over 100 years old. And now they say they don’t have enough money to fix the schools,” Teague said.

“All of our funding allocated toward emergent projects has essentially been exhausted since the 2011 allocation,” says the SDA’s Kristen MacLean. “Eventually we will need more money. The need far exceeds the money that is left.” She says Paterson applied for 17 projects in 2011, but only one qualified. In 2008, out of 11 projects approved, five are complete and six pending.

“The state has said we have the worst facilities in the state of New Jersey,” said Hodges.

The state is building two brand new schools here. But Paterson needs a lot more help, Hodges says. He claims rules and regulations change without warning, and that long-term state oversight of the disadvantaged district hasn’t helped.

A spokesperson for the district tells us that while they have been in contact with the SDA, there is simply no additional money available.

“If we the city of Paterson were able to address the needs of our children in terms of our facilities, we wouldn’t be in this situation at all. They don’t live here. We do,” Hodges said.

They say all politics is local, but Paterson’s on its fifth state-appointed superintendent in the past nine years. Having millions of education aid on the line only intensifies the friction with some local board members.