Democrat Barbara Buono toured a Trenton high school that Gov. Chris Christie had refused to visit, describing the conditions inside the building Thursday as so poor the school should be closed immediately for emergency repairs.
Buono said the 80-year-old building's leaky roof, crumbling ceilings and mold-infested walls are a health hazard and learning impediment for the 1,900 mostly minority teenagers who attend Trenton Central High School. She said the students should be temporarily schooled elsewhere while the building is made safe.
"I've been in prisons that look better than this," she said after a half-hour tour set up by student leaders. Christie declined a similar invitation.
Buono also blasted Christie, her opponent in the Nov. 5 governor's race, for failing to fix the capital city's only public high school. The governor said the Schools Development Authority under his administration has jurisdiction but the SDA said emergency repairs are the school district's responsibility.
Buono characterizing the school's state of disrepair as "a reflection of Chris Christie's abysmal leadership."
"The children are suffering because it's not in (Christie's) political self-interest (to fix the school)," Buono said. "If my administration had held up funding for four years to fix this school and others like it, I'd be embarrassed that I hadn't even come one time for a visit."
Buono was joined by school officials, teachers union leaders and state lawmakers who represent the district.
The school district, which Assemblyman Reed Gusciora said is spending $2.6 million on emergency repairs, is suing the state.
The SDA has designated up to $27 million for repairs, starting with the roof, officials said, but repairs aren't scheduled to start until next year and won't be completed until 2015.
The agency issued a statement Thursday evening saying an architectural design team has been developing a plan to improve conditions at the school and that it spent $391,000 to patch a portion of the roof.
The SDA also pursued the idea of building a new high school in 2009, the administration noted, but it was rejected by members of the community who favored preserving the historic existing building. A working group was formed in January to pursue capital improvements to the school.
Trenton has been classified an Abbott school district, which means it is one of the state's poorest and determined by the courts to be providing an inadequate education to its students. The state was ordered to improve facilities, equipment and learning opportunities at the mostly minority schools.
One of the chants heard at a rally before the tour was "release the money," meaning without further delay. Another chant led by students and teachers was "we deserve better."
Former school superintendent Raymond Broach said the school's many deficiencies were documented and photographed and air quality tests completed two years ago and submitted to SDA.
He said there's been no forward movement since.