Gov. Chris Christie visited West New York’s Memorial High School Wednesday morning alongside state School Development Authority CEO Marc Larkins to announce that the state has approved the school district’s purchase of St. Joseph’s parochial school to relieve overcrowding at the high school.
However, one authority still needs to approve the purchase – the pope.
St. Joseph’s, which is located across the street from Memorial High School, is a parochial school, so any sale or purchase requires approval of the church.
“We are in the midst of active negotiations with the archdiocese,” Larkins said. “We hope to finalize the purchase within the calendar year.”
St. Joseph’s closed two years ago.
Some questioned whether Christie’s visit last week was a political payback for Mayor Felix Roque’s endorsement of Republican candidate for senator Joe Kyrillos over Hudson County native Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, only one week beforehand.
Christie responded that the project was approved by the SDA around four weeks ago, and that he chose to visit the school “because this is an alternative delivery method; something different that we’re trying here” in purchasing a building to meet the needs of overcrowding instead of providing structural additions or renovations.
Roque and his Board of Commissioners, as well as Superintendent of Schools John Fauta, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, and Mark Albiez, who represented Union City Mayor Brian Stack, were in attendance. Stack could not attend because of illness.
“If [Stack] needs an injection, let me know,” Roque joked during his speech.
“What children need should not be defined by political influence.” – Gov. Chris Christie
Fauta said at the event that because of Christie, “Many wonderful things are happening” for the children of West New York.
“[Christie] is a visionary, a champion for our childrens’ education, and a friend,” Roque said. “He cares passionately about strengthening schools for urban residents, and is providing our children with the tools needed to compete in this global arena.”
Christie announced, “It’s good to be back in West New York. The legacy of the school construction program unfortunately has been filled with wasteful profligate spending and a swollen bureaucracy.”
Now, he continued, with the help of the SDA, modern schools would be built in districts where the need is the greatest.
Memorial High School was designated as a “high educational priority” and so was made one of eight capital projects approved by the board for the “first round” of construction set for 2012. State investment in these eight schools will total $675 million.
“The SDA will no longer build palaces in the districts of the politically connected,” Christie said.
Larkins said that during his past two years as CEO, he has seen the SDA go through a complete transformation.
Need vs. political favoritism
At the event, Christie spoke to the press’ insinuation that he was showing political favoritism to West New York, to which he responded, “You guys really crack me up. You want bipartisanship….and if I only went to Republican areas, you’d say, ‘Why don’t you go to the areas where there are minorities and Democrats who don’t vote for you?’”
He said that he himself played no role in deciding which schools needed aid, and that it was solely the job of Larkins and the SDA.
“What children need should not be defined by political influence,” he said. “It should be based upon the needs of children comparative to the needs of children in the rest of the state.”
In explanation of his friendship with Roque, he said, “He’s a Democrat who’s willing to talk to me,” and that their friendship is based upon “his integrity and his leadership.” Christie said this also applied to Zimmer and Stack, making for a bipartisan relationship that helps expedite the process of getting children what they need.
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