Why Is the Murphy Administration Protecting NB’s Illegal Preschool Trailers?

Dear Editor:

Officials in the North Bergen School District and Trenton know that “TCU” stands for “Temporary Classroom Unit” and they know TCUs shouldn’t be in service for an indefinite period of time. But they don’t care.

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Fifteen of North Bergen’s (NB) preschool’s TCU trailers are 21+ years old; two are ten years old.

The 10 year old TCUs replaced two that burned up in a fire, at a time when the TCUs lacked emergency exits.

This emergency exit violation wasn’t corrected until after I complained in 2018 and the NB Superintendent of Schools falsely claimed afterward that the violation wasn’t a violation.

The New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) is supposed to inspect TCUs annually using its “Temporary Facilities Checklist.”

This rubric contains the emergency exit regulation and it quotes N.J.A.C. 6A:26-3.14(g):
“A temporary facility may be approved by the Division for a term of two years, with three annual renewals if the District, or the Authority acting on behalf of the District demonstrates satisfactory progress toward the provision of permanent facilities.”

I’m not an attorney, but attorneys have advised me that this regulation means five years is the maximum that TCUs can be approved for operation by NJ DOE.

So why has a NJ DOE-Hudson County inspector signed off on this checklist, approving NB’s old and unsafe TCUs?
The DOE won’t answer the question.

BTW, these TCUs, even though they are so old, cost about $300,000/year to lease.

The North Bergen preschool TCUs are located on approximately two acres of Braddock Park land which is supposed to be protected by the NJ DEP for recreation/open space use ONLY, not for school use.

In 2005 NJ DEP produced a fraudulent compliance inspection report that didn’t mention North Bergen had illegally “diverted” a NJ taxpayer/Green Acres funded ball field into the North Bergen preschool.

In 2011, DEP finally reported the illegal diversion, issued violations, and told NB it must remove the preschool TCUs from the park.

That was eleven years ago.

In the meantime the school district has disregarded multiple deadlines for removing the TCUs, contending there hasn’t ever been a viable site anywhere in North Bergen for the preschool.

In 2016, I informed NJ DEP that the 10-acre Hi-Tech High School campus in NB would be vacated and the district could use Hi-Tech for the preschool. Alternatively it could be used as a middle school and, after a district-wide school reorganization, there would be space in the elementary schools for the preschoolers. DEP directed NB to investigate these ideas as the means of solving NB’s non-compliance with DEP regulations; the district chose the school reorganization plan and took credit for the Hi-Tech idea.

DEP then gave North Bergen a “cushion” of a September 2021 deadline to remove the preschool from the park.

NB agreed to meet or beat the deadline and submitted its realignment/LRFP (Long Range Facilities Plan) to the NJ DOE, specifying it was subject to a 2018 referendum for funding the reorganization.

NJ DOE approved the LRFP and North Bergen voters approved the referendum for $65 million to purchase Hi-Tech High and renovate classrooms district-wide. Afterward, Governor Murphy “gifted” an additional $10 million to North Bergen..

Yet North Bergen disregarded the DEP’s 09-01-21 deadline, saying only that it intends to move some, but not all, of the preschoolers out of the park.
This, even though there is enough classroom space to move all the preschoolers.

The district’s enrollment has been steadily declining for a decade and Hi-Tech High added about 2,000 more seats to a school system that enrolls only about 7,000 students.

Even if NB doesn’t want to place all the preschoolers in elementary schools, the remainder can be placed elsewhere.

Residents, the NJ DEP, and the DOE have been misled and $75 million is being misspent!

North Bergen has the money and the land to build a state-of-the-art preschool if it wanted; instead, it is currently planning to commercially develop about 45 acres, with no plan for a preschool.

This matter needs to be settled now – there are numerous safety concerns.
One is that the TCUs were installed in 2001 without first conducting a traffic safety study.

Again, after I complained, in 2015 NB-Hudson County conducted an engineering study which recommended widening the 1-lane wide preschool entrance road, which is used for 2-way traffic and pedestrians.
The study also recommended installing a sidewalk.

Neither recommendation was implemented.

In 2001, Assistant Superintendent of Schools/Mayor/State Senator Nick Sacco said, concerning the decision to move the preschool TCUs into the park, “This is very temporary…As soon as the extension to Lincoln School is built, we will move the students there.”
It never happened.

It’s more than time for Senator Sacco and the State to fix this nonsense.

Robert Walden

Bayonne
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