Newark school buildings raised safety concerns. Why haven’t they been fixed?

Welcome to Chalkbeat Newark's weekly newsletter! Today, read about Newark’s aging school buildings, a growing summer jobs program for young people, and much more.

— Patrick Wall, senior reporter

The big story

Lafayette Street School

Newark’s school buildings desperately need fixing. Some may even pose health and safety risks.

In 2016, the state said it would fund repairs in schools where the conditions could cause “imminent peril to the health and safety of students and staff.” Newark requested funding for more than 150 repair projects costing an estimated $311 million.

The potentially hazardous conditions that needed fixing included falling roofs, obsolete fire alarms, faulty heating and cooling systems, broken windows, and deteriorating doors.

Despite a longstanding court order that says the state is responsible for fully funding renovations in high-poverty school districts, including Newark, the state approved just 11 of the projects.

Three years later, those urgent repair projects still are not completed. Seven are expected to be wrapped up in the coming months; the rest won’t be finished until at least 2020.

That leaves dozens of Newark schools still needing major fixes — and new superintendent Roger León facing pressure from advocates and families alike to improve their conditions.

“Ultimately, we don’t have the dollars to actually fix everything that is wrong in our respective schools,” León said at a school board meeting last month. “The state of where we are now is not good.”

Read the full story here.

What to watch

What else is happening around Newark schools.

State agency responsible for building schools in Newark far exceeded cost limits

  • What to know: Despite Newark’s dire need for new schools, the state’s troubled Schools Development Authority has built only six new schools in the city over the past dozen years, León told state lawmakers in March.
  • Now, a new report says the schools the agency did build far exceeded the cost limits set by the state legislature.
  • The SDA spent an average of $424 per square foot to build new schools in Newark — nearly three times the limit set by the Legislature, according to a report in TAPinto Newark.
  • The high costs have limited the number of schools the agency has been able to build in Newark and other districts.
  • And because the agency is almost out of money, it does not plan to add any new schools to its construction pipeline — which does not include any projects in Newark.
  • “The inflated construction costs in Newark may not only be criminal acts themselves, but they are criminal in that they undermine taxpayers’ support for education spending where it is truly needed,” a state lawmaker said.
  • One big question: Without help from the SDA, how will Newark replace its aging schools?

Newark news & events

Local education reporting and upcoming events.

Summer work…

  • About 3,000 Newark young people are starting paid jobs this summer through a city program that will also teach them about financial literacy. Chalkbeat, TAPinto Newark

Budding DJs…

  • With the help of grants from the Save The Music Foundation, high school students in Newark and New York City are learning how to DJ and create podcasts. Reverb

News from Trenton & beyond

Reporting on statewide education issues that matter for Newark. 

Exit exams…

  • The new president of the New Jersey Board of Education stood by the state’s requirement that students pass an exam to graduate high school. NJ Spotlight

School start times…

  • A new state bill would experiment with pushing back the start time at a handful of high schools, based on recommendations by pediatricians. TAPinto Newark

School funding…

  • A small N.J. school district is suing the state after it was denied an extra $30 million in funding.

Student achievement…

  • Students in the Camden’s charter and renaissance schools have outperformed pupils in traditional public schools, according to a new study. Courier-Post Online

Higher ed…

  • Gov. Phil Murphy is putting $235 million in budget items on hold until the state comes up with revenue to pay for them.
  • The frozen budget items including funding to colleges and universities across the state.
  • Op-ed: A higher-ed expert says New Jersey should focus less on chasing after college students who leave the state and more on improving the colleges and universities in New Jersey. NJ Spotlight

Extra credit

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