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Steve Sweeney. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Top Democrats looking to ‘restructure’ Schools Development Authority

Authority could be rolled into separate state agency

By Nikita Biryukov, June 22 2021 4:15 pm

Trenton’s top three Democrats suggested they would move to reform the Schools Development Authority as funding the troubled agency tasked with constructing schools in low-income neighborhoods emerged as a sticking point in budget negotiations.

“We will act to effectuate change and look to restructure the organization or move it under another State entity to improve the State’s ability to deliver and effectively manage public school construction projects,” Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said in a joint statement.

“As we work toward funding reauthorization, we will also review the organizational structure of the SDA and consider all possible alternatives to the current structure in the months ahead,” they said.

Sweeney has long favored abolishing the SDA, which was regarded as a patronage pit long before former CEO Lizette Delgado Polanco was ousted over a hiring spree that saw tens of longtime employees culled and replaced by family and friends that frequently lacked qualifications for their new posts.

Lawmakers scrutiny of the agency was renewed earlier this month after a report from the State Committee of Investigation found repeated breakdowns in oversight and widespread mismanagement.

The Senate president earlier this month said he would not appropriate money to the troubled agency in this year’s budget.

“I’m not funding the SDA,” he said. “I’m just not.

Discussions about funding for school construction were still ongoing Tuesday afternoon, when budget committees in both chambers convened to vote on a series of appropriations bills.

“The Schools Development Authority’s (SDA) mission is critical to the construction, modernization, and renovation of schools in some of our most underserved school districts,” Sweeney, Murphy and Coughlin said.

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