How Trenton High School Fell Down in the First Place

Not to jinx anything, but it’s beginning to look like Trenton is going to get a new high school. Today’s Trenton Times reports that the School Board just unanimously approved a $130 million, 4-year construction project. The plan was presented by new School Development Corporation’s Charles McKenna, who appears to appreciate the nuances of the ongoing feud between Trenton residents who value some of the striking features of the 82-year old building, and those who just want a new school.

Jim Carlucci, one of the best writers covering Trenton, takes a hard look at those who bear responsibility for the dangerous structural deterioration of  Trenton Central High School. And, contrary to what Education Law Center would have you believe, it’s not just the School Development Authority, which is the state agency responsible for school construction.

Here’s Carlucci’s chronology: first, he says,  “the Trenton school district let the building deteriorate.  Undoubtedly, defenders of our board of education will say it was a money problem, but let’s be real. It is a management problem,” one  that “has been punted back and forth for over a decade pitting the state against that school board against the preservationists against the state and so on.”

Then, he writes, “[t]he ineffective, mayor appointed school boards and school administrators (with a few exceptions) collectively fell in with the community cry for all new construction. The preservationists made enough noise to give the SDA political cover for its own inadequacies, indecision and political posturing.”

Instead of demonstrating the value and worth of taking care of the things we have, the school district, the board of education, the elected leaders at all levels let us down. They morphed maintenance and management issues into political posturing. They all said “It’s for the children” and for more than a decade, an entire generation of students has gone without.

Carlucci itemizes a long list of villain here, not just the (inept) SDA or (criminal) Mayor Tony Mack or complicit politicians or warring factions within the community.  No single entity can claim ownership for decades of dysfunction; it’s almost always more complicated than that. While there’s an attraction to having an unambiguous target: — it’s Chris Christie! No, it’s Kim Guadagno! It’s David Wildstein! No, it’s Bridget Anne Kelly! — that’s too easy.  The responsibility rests with  whole culture of log-rolling and pay-to-play and in-fighting and  myopic management failures. So why does it seem likes it’s worse in Jersey than anywhere else?

What do you think?

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