A bill to prohibit state operated school districts from leasing buildings if the cost of the lease is greater than the building’s purchase price passed through the New Jersey Assembly’s Education Committee on Monday.
“We must take a good look at how much we are spending on renting,” Assembly Benjie Wimberly, a sponsor of the bill, said. “If we can save money that can be used on other needs such as books computers, recreational programs and infrastructure repairs, then that is what we should be doing.”
Paterson spends $4 million on leased classroom space every year. School board member Jonathan Hodges lobbied the city’s legislative delegation to change state law to allow the district to enter into lease-purchase agreements.
Hodges has said the state-run school system does not have the authority to enter into lease-purchase arrangements.
“I hope the state allows us to use it in acquisition of real estate,” he said. “It’s an extremely important bill for us. If we’re allowed to make such purchases we can do some unique things with our facilities.”
Hodges said it could allow the school district to enter into a lease-purchase agreement for a building close to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center for its medical arts school, Harp Academy.
“When a building is available for purchase or for lease with the option to buy, a school district should consider these options first, before simply opting for a long term lease,” Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter said.
Hodges has previously said at the end of a lease agreement the district pays out millions of dollars with little to show for it.
“If it makes more financial sense to purchase rather than lease a building, then school districts must explore these options before settling for a lease agreement that ends up costing more in the long run. Any money saved could be used to fund needs that are not being met,” Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer said.
Wimberly, Sumter, and Spencer sponsored the bill in the Assembly.
The measure introduced by Wimberly last June still has a long way to go before final passage.
Jay Rahman contributed to reporting.