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School Climate & Safety

N.J. Principals Cite Unmet Facility Needs

By Joetta L. Sack — May 19, 2004 3 min read
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While most New Jersey principals give decent grades to the conditions of their facilities, the lowest marks are most likely to come from principals in high-poverty districts, a survey has found.

Read the report, “The Educational Adequacy of New Jersey Public School Facilities: Results From a Survey of Principals,” from the Education Law Center. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

A report on the survey, which queried more than 400 principals on the condition of their schools, urges the state to take another look at the facility needs of its most impoverished districts.

New Jersey is in the midst of a 10-year, $8 billion plan to renovate or replace school facilities. Most of that money will go to the 30 needy districts targeted in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school finance case. (“High Court in N.J. Ends Funding Suit,” May 27, 1998.)

But even more needs to be accomplished for the so-called Abbott districts, the survey contends.

The survey was commissioned by the Education Law Center, the Newark, N.J., group that represented the districts in the lawsuit. The report argues that the facility shortcomings of the Abbott districts “clearly need attention.”

On average, the principals responding gave their facilities a B-minus, with about two-thirds awarding their facilities an A or a B. Only 10 percent gave their facilities a D or F. The average grade for Abbott districts’ facilities was a C-plus.

The report’s author said that he was concerned that plenty of administrators were still giving their buildings low grades.

“The question is, is an average of B-minus good enough after this major rebuilding campaign?,” said Mark Schneider, a professor of political science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. “The issues are evident in that there are too many schools that got C’s, D’s, and F’s, and those schools tend to be clustered in the low-income districts.”

State officials did not return phone calls seeking comment on the report.

<------table ends------> The survey received 456 responses from 1,700 questionnaires sent to principals across the state, or a response rate of 27 percent.

Eighty percent of respondents said that their schools were “adequate” overall. Some, though, said that their buildings had inadequate facilities for specific subjects, such as science laboratories or music and art rooms.

High schools also received slightly lower marks than did elementary and middle schools.

Those numbers fell for the highest-poverty districts, with 65 percent of principals in those districts reporting all their facilities to be adequate. Only 45 percent of high schools were deemed adequate, compared with 95 percent in the wealthiest subgroup of districts.

Schools in Abbott districts are likely to be older than others. The average age of school buildings across New Jersey is 53 years, while the average age of buildings in Abbott districts is 67 years.

Overseeing Construction

During the ongoing construction and renovations in many New Jersey schools, principals are often called on to oversee such work. But the survey found inequities in the training and capabilities of principals for managing school construction projects and maintenance work.

Many principals in the survey reported that they felt inadequately trained to oversee the maintenance of their facilities, and that they had little input in the design of renovations and schedules of repairs to existing buildings.

Those concerns are causing a high level of frustration among principals, said Daniel Money, the principal of the Burlington County Institute of Technology, and the president of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. Often, he added, administrators in the needy schools that are most likely to receive state construction aid are unable to get training in how to manage construction jobs because they have other pressing problems in their schools.

It’s important, he said, to be able to work with contractors to keep disruption of classes to a minimum during construction, and to alleviate frustrations at having parts of the building shut down.

A version of this article appeared in the May 19, 2004 edition of Education Week as N.J. Principals Cite Unmet Facility Needs

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