PATERSON, NJ – Most of the city’s 29,400 students attend school in antiquated, overcrowded or substandard buildings that need extensive repairs and in some instances lack basic 21st century equipment like laboratories and information technology, according to a report issued by Paterson Schools Superintendent Donnie W. Evans.
Moreover, the report said, the district’s facilities structure is inefficient and costly – one that includes spending $4.8 million a year on seven leases for 10 schools, including rentals for the Sports Business academy, Garrett Morgan Academy, School No. 29 and the HARP Academy.
Evans said he discussed the problems with the district’s facilities with representatives of the New Jersey Department of Education and New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA).
“They were quick to say our district’s needs were greater than any in the state of New Jersey,’’ Evans said at the February 9 Board of Education meeting.
All this in a district in which enrollment increased by 1,064 student during the past two years.
The report says more than half Paterson’s public school students are in “questionable buildings that are over 100 years old, overcrowded, and/ornon-FES [Facilities Efficiency Standards] compliant. Only 8% of all District students are assigned to school buildings that are less than 30 years old.’’
Evans proposed consolidating or closing small schools “to improve efficiency and reduce costs.” He also said the district could gain additional space and reduce its dependency on rentals through a lease-purchase agreement for the former Paterson Catholic building, which is owned by the Paterson Diocese.
Moreover, he said, there is a “strong possibility” of reaching an agreement with the developers involved with the various projects being built at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center to relocate the Health and Related Professions academy there.
There was little comment from board members about Evans’ report. They agreed to hold a special “retreat” session soon to discuss the facilities situation.
In his report, Evans mentioned that several major projects, including the construction of new schools at Marshall Street and School No. 16, remain on hold while the SDA reviews its statewide list of school proposals.
“Those are schools that we desperately need,’’ Evans said.
Here are some other issues outlined in Evans' report:
*after years of deferred maintenance, schools require extensive repairs.
*the district's small, stand-alone buildings, like School No. 11 and the Urban Leadership Academy, have costly overhead.
*the district plans to relocate the Destiny Alternative School and discontinue its current arrangement with the Passaic County Education Commission.
*some schools have unusually small enrollments, like the Education academy (175 students) Sports Business Academy (71 students) and Law and Public Safety academy (79) making them costly to operate with respect to their number of students.
*the district's middle school alternative program has just 25 students.
*the district has not yet been able to sell the former location of School No. 5 and 33-35 Church Street.