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Half of school building jobs to be delayed

New Jersey's Schools Construction Corp. voted yesterday to delay work on almost half of the building projects in its capital plan because of a lack of state funding.

New Jersey's Schools Construction Corp. voted yesterday to delay work on almost half of the building projects in its capital plan because of a lack of state funding.

The agency, responsible for building schools in 31 of the state's most disadvantaged districts to fulfill a court order, plans to proceed with 32 projects. It won't be able to start construction on 27 projects until lawmakers authorize new funding for the program, said Scott Weiner, the corporation's chief executive.

"We are at the bottom of the barrel in terms of dollars," Weiner told the corporation's board at a meeting yesterday. "There is no more capital plan to erode."

Among the projects that will be completed are three schools in Camden: H.B. Wilson Elementary, Morgan Village Middle and Dudley Elementary.

Those that will continue to be delayed are Pyne Poynt Family Middle School in Camden; New Early Childhood Center in Pemberton, and Vineland Middle School 2.

New Jersey is required by the state Supreme Court, because of rulings based on the 1981 lawsuit called Abbott vs. Burke, to give extra money to the state's 31 poorest districts to bring them in line with the spending levels of the richest. Camden, Burlington City, Gloucester City and Pemberton Township are among the Abbott schools in the region.

The Schools Construction Corp., created by state lawmakers to fulfill the mandates of the State Supreme Court's Abbott rulings to equalize school funding in New Jersey, committed to borrowing $8.6 billion to build new schools and then halted work on 315 projects in 2005 when it became clear that there wasn't enough money to finish those projects. It has since focused on a plan to complete 59 projects.

Weiner said the corporation has about $674 million on hand and needs an additional $600 million to finish all 59 projects.

The state will use $517 million of the money it has left to fund construction projects already under way and to design facilities. The remaining $157 million will be reserved for other projects that may come up and in case of an emergency.

In September, a panel established by Gov. Corzine released a report calling for the state to provide an additional $3.25 billion in school funding. Of that amount $2.5 billion would pay for projects in the 31 neediest districts and $750 million would go toward the other school districts in the state.

The board's decision yesterday means that although construction can't begin on those 27 projects, design and other preparatory work can continue.

Larry Hanover, a corporation spokesman, said they can go out for bid on the projects that are being delayed once the Legislature authorizes the sale of bonds to fund the program. "As long as we know the money is coming, we can start on these projects," he said.

Weiner said Corzine has been working with the Legislature to find a permanent source of funding for the program. Corzine's hospitalization from injuries he suffered in an April 12 accident wouldn't have an effect on the program, Weiner said.

On April 12, the Newark-based Education Law Center, a group that advocates for students in low-income districts, filed a lawsuit calling for the state to provide the $3.25 billion that was recommended by Corzine's panel.

Those supporting the lawsuit said that when the funds ran out in 2005, many districts were left in a bind.

In Gloucester City, school construction funds were supposed to build a new school for fourth to eighth graders. Seventy families were relocated to make way for the construction. But the program ran out of money, leaving an empty lot and a high school nearly 400 students over capacity, a school spokeswoman said in April.

Camden was at one point promised as many as 15 new schools. Then it became four. To date, the School Construction Corp. has built none.