TRENTON – Senator Ronald L. Rice, D-Essex, the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Public Schools, issued the following statement today regarding the Committee’s hearing on the state of the Schools Construction Corporation (SCC), the agency responsible for school construction in the State of New Jersey:
“As a resident of Newark and an advocate for quality schools for all of New Jersey’s students, I have been appalled at the misuse and mismanagement of the SCC since its inception.
“The SCC should have been an agency to bring opportunities to our poor, urban communities, to give students the facilities needed to realize the American Dream. Instead, it stood as a pit of patronage and corruption, with billions of dollars squandered in an inefficient and wasteful manner.
“I have faith that current SCC CEO Scott Weiner, and SCC Chair Barry Zubrow have the best intentions, and it looks like they have made some progress in putting the agency back on the right track. That said, the SCC still has an obligation to build quality schools in New Jersey, and despite the mistakes and missteps in the past, they need to hold firm to that obligation.
“Moving forward, I think there are safeguards that we can put in place to ensure that the money dedicated to school construction actually goes to that purpose. The SCI (State Commission of Investigation) has led the charge in cracking down on waste and fraud in government spending, and I think assigning a member to monitor the SCC would be a wise move.
“Students should not be held accountable for SCC’s failings in the past in terms of fraud and abuse. However, if any lawmaker has real, factual information regarding corruption or fraud at the SCC, or any government agency for that matter, they should take that information immediately to the Attorney General, or the proper law enforcement authorities, and cooperate with ongoing investigations.
“To withhold information of wrong-doing for partisan gain and further stymieing the progress at SCC or any other agency, is simply both wrong and costly to the taxpayers of New Jersey, and I am considering legislation to compel cooperation from officeholders, or face legal consequences.
“Also, we need to offer opportunities to minority and women-owned contractors to complete the construction work on our schools. New Jersey’s under a court-mandate to provide fairness to minority and women contractors, and using the SCC as a means to meet that mandate would allow the agency to serve a dual role in empowering urban minorities, on both the educational and economic level.
“The SCC has the potential to do so much good in the State of New Jersey, but only if we continue to hold it accountable and demand a high-standard from its leaders. I look forward to continued progress under the current administration, and will be among the first to voice my concerns should they go astray.”