TRENTON – Senator Joseph V. Doria Jr. today said the key to reforming the bankrupt school construction program in New Jersey is to place ultimate decision-making responsibility with the State Education Commissioner.
“We need to make one person accountable for the ultimate decisions and that should be the person most responsible for the education of our children – the Education Commissioner,” said Senator Doria, D-Hudson, and a member of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools.
The panel held a day-long hearing on the State’s troubled School Construction Corporation which is now out of money with hundreds of projects on hold statewide because of overspending, lack of accountability and mismanagement.
Senator Doria said the State needs to undertake a “fundamental restructuring” of the relationship between the autonomous SCC and the Department of Education.
“We saw how an ‘independent’ agency ran out of control and our school construction needs were sidetracked by lack of accountability,” said Senator Doria, the Mayor of Bayonne and the former Chair of the Education Committee in the Assembly where he also served as Speaker. “We can’t let that happen again.”
Senator Doria said he would sponsor legislation to restructure the school construction program to effectively upgrade the authority of the State Education Commissioner to make key decisions concerning building projects around the state.
“The three-part relationship where cooperation and coordination are essential involves the SCC, the Department of Education and the local school districts,” Senator Doria said. “The SCC should have its project management function to ensure efficient business practices in the actual construction of projects. The Commissioner of Education should have the ultimate decision about which projects are needed most, in both special needs and self sustaining districts. Local districts, however, should be given more decision-making responsibilities to help avoid cost overruns.”
Senator Doria commended the reform efforts of new SCC Chairman Alfred C. Koeppe who, in turn, agreed with the Democratic Senator that the SCC and the Department of Education should have a “hand-in-glove relationship.”
Senator Doria said the State has to learn from the mistakes of the past in the brief history of the SCC without abandoning its goal of providing sustained funding and a clearly defined management structure.
“The building program strayed off course, but we cannot waver in our commitment to provide the structures needed for all of our children to learn in a healthy and safe environment,” Senator Doria said.