On July 18, 2000 the New Jersey Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act had allocated $8.6 billion for public school construction and renovation all over the state, which included $6 billion for the 31 urban "Abbott" special-needs districts.
The SCC was designated to distribute the funding accordingly, but it overextended itself, and now the funding is almost depleted.
Fifty-nine projects costing $1.5 billion, which were approved by the SCC Board of Directors last July, will still go on as scheduled, but the SCC will not commit to any more projects beyond January 2006.
About 60 percent of the SCC's approved 59 projects are in the counties of Hudson, Essex, Union and Passaic. The SCC welcomed new acting Chief Executive Officer Peter Maricondo on Sept. 7 to take over for John Spencer, who resigned from his position.
Continuing academic excellence In other educational news, several schools were recognized for academic achievement.
In March, 13 schools in Hudson County were announced as "2004 Just for the Kids - New Jersey Benchmark Schools," an initiative sponsored by The Business Coalition of Educational Excellence (BCEE) at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.
Among the schools honored were Weehawken High School; Mary Donohue Elementary School in Bayonne; North Bergen High School and Horace Mann Elementary School in North Bergen; Public School No. 29 in Jersey City; Public Schools No. 3, 4, and 5 in West New York; and the Columbus, Jefferson, Hudson, Robert Waters, and Sara Gilmore schools in Union City.
Here are some of the individual educational updates in various towns:
Hoboken Due to the depleted SCC funds, Hoboken's proposed new high school and elementary school in the northwest part of town were not among the final 59 projects approved last July. However, the multi-million dollar renovations of the Connors ($14.5 million) and Calabro ($8.8 million) primary schools were approved.
According to Hoboken-based state Sen. Bernard Kenny, plans to purchase the Cognis chemical property to build the new high school and elementary school there remain the same. However, that will depend on the approval of a request for an additional $3 billion for school construction statewide that is pending before the state legislature. Hoboken had written up proposals for the two new schools, an athletic field, and the rehabilitation of its six existing schools.
The planned elementary school and high school would cost an estimated $100 million.
Guttenberg In Guttenberg, incumbents Vasilios "Bill" Scoullos and John Habermann gained another three years each on the Guttenberg Board of Education last spring. Joining Scoullos and Habermann was newcomer Ileana Caballero.
But the administration was miffed when residents voted down their school budget, which was $7.3 million for the 2005-2006 year, calling for an estimated $180 per home increase. The budget was voted down 342 to 172.
There was also an additional question that pertained to an added $188,000 to hire a bilingual teacher for the fifth and sixth grades, as well as to maintain the summer school program and the after-school athletic clubs. It was also rejected by a 332 to 161 count.
Officials said that some school programs would be slashed as a result.
Jersey City Jersey City welcomed the first of its new schools last January with the opening of the Glenn D. Cunningham Early Childhood Center, named in honor of the late Jersey City mayor.
The $3.1 million center, which was a former commercial building in the Greenville section of Jersey City, serves 75 students between the ages of 3 and 4 years old.
The following month, Jersey City also celebrated the opening of the Dr. Charles T. Epps Jr. Freshman Academy, named after Jersey City's current Superintendent of Schools.
The $14.9 million facility, which once housed the city's Board of Education offices, now houses over 400 ninth grade students enrolled at the adjacent Lincoln High School.
Also this year, the state Department of Education approved the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC), a targeted intervention program meant to help school systems, like Jersey City's, return to local control.
"At this moment they are in the process of setting up regulations and conducting evaluations of the district," said Charlotte Kitler, attorney for the Jersey City Board of Education.
The Jersey City School system has been under state control since 1989.
North Bergen This past September, North Bergen also celebrated the grand opening of the new Lincoln School extension, which took nearly six years to complete, and currently accommodates about 400 5-year-old kindergarten students.
"I'm extremely relieved," Superintendent of Schools Peter Fischbach told the Reporter in September. "The administration, the architect, the contractors, the staff - everyone's pleased with the opening."
The three-story, 20-classroom extension now houses 90 percent of the district's kindergarten classes.
In addition, in July, State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco introduced legislation that called for $19.9 million in state funds for five districts, which included North Bergen and Weehawken.
The legislation was meant to give some financial relief to school districts that border on three Abbott districts, yet are not considered low-income enough to receive the state assistance given to the neighboring districts.
Secaucus In June, Secaucus celebrated the opening of the long awaited Arthur Couch Performing Arts Center, which is located at the Secaucus High School/Middle School Complex. It was named in memory of the late superintendent. In addition, the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission went forth with a $2 million mitigation project to restore the 42 acres of marsh land behind Secaucus High School.
In April, five candidates battled it out for three of the three-year seats available on the Secaucus Board of Education. In the end, longtime incumbents William Millevoi, board president; Susan Pirro, vice president; and member Eleanor Reinl retained their seats on the board. Incumbent John Shinnick, who was appointed to the seat after the resignation of George Heflich, ran for his one-year term unopposed.
In addition to elections, controversy surrounded the appointment of an assistant superintendent for the first time in 15 years, at a salary of $156,000 a year. The announcement came only two months after the school board paid teachers to leave the system for the purpose of saving salary money, which in turn would be utilized for building improvements including renovations at the middle and high schools.
Teachers with over 25 years experience received a $52,000 early retirement package, and beginning teachers were hired at lower salaries.
Union City This year, Union City broke ground on their next two school construction projects: the new Emerson High School/Union City Athletic Complex and the Early Childhood Center.
The new $136 million Emerson High School and Union City Athletic Complex is the second of six central projects being erected throughout the state, and will be a state-of-the-art facility featuring a rooftop athletic field with bleachers. It is on the site of the now-demolished Roosevelt Athletic Stadium.
The school is anticipated to accommodate between 1,400 and 1,700 high school students, and is targeted for completion by 2008.
In July, Acting Gov. Richard Codey joined Union City's municipal and school district leaders for the groundbreaking ceremony of the new demonstration project.
Also, in March, representatives of the SCC joined state and local officials for the groundbreaking ceremony of Union City's Early Childhood Center, slated to become one of the largest early childhood centers in the region. The $13 million project will accommodate between 243 and 270 pre-k students, and will feature 18 general classrooms with heated floors and computer stations, a health-screening center, and a playground area.
Completion is expected by the fall of 2006.
Weehawken The Weehawken Board of Education adopted its $17 million budget for the 2005-2006 fiscal school year, which included a $910,000 increase in taxes in order to meet the rising cost of increased salaries and insurance premiums for employees.
However, thanks to the recent legislation introduced by State Sen. Nicholas Sacco that was signed by the state Senate and Assembly, Weehawken received $450,000 in additional state funding. The Weehawken Board of Education decided to use $250,000 of the funds to go directly to easing the tax burden, meaning that only $660,000 of the entire budget would have to be raised by taxes.
The township also received a 40 percent grant from the state Department of Education on the proposed $9 million school improvement program, which included an extension to Webster School.
West New York This year saw a comeback for school uniforms in Union City and West New York.
The mandatory policy mainly applied to the elementary schools, but is planned to include the middle schools and eventually the high schools.
Regarding new schools, West New York also has approved projects pending, but has not begun construction. Three of the SCC's 59 final projects include the new Harry L. Bain Elementary School, which will be an estimated cost of $39,765,000, and Public Schools No. 2 at $23,717,611 and No. 3 at $44,684,668. This is in addition to the current construction of Public School No. 4.
West New York had welcomed its first middle school back in 2004.