Depending on whom you listen to, and when you listen to them, the economy is improving…or not.  The employment picture is getting better…or not.  State government revenues are improving…but certainly not enough.

Without question, the economic climate is uncertain. School boards need flexibility, not restrictions, under such financial circumstances.  Unfortunately, proposals are advancing in the legislature that would hinder school district efficiency, limit boards’ ability to direct resources to the classroom, and increase the cost of personnel administration.

Two current proposals—Senate Bill 1191 and Assembly Bill 3627—would severely restrain school boards’ ability to save taxpayers’ money and preserve educational programs.  The legislation would restrict the subcontracting of non-instructional services, such as transportation, cafeteria, maintenance and clerical work.  S-1191 passed the Senate today (March 18); A-3627 is in position for a vote by the full Assembly.

Prohibiting subcontracting is not a new idea.  The unions have pushed it for almost two decades.    Even in the best economic climate, the idea is a bad one.

In the past, NJSBA and other public employers have fended off the poor public policy represented by these bills.  A key element of our efforts has been data collection.  In a 2009 NJSBA survey, for example, 238 school districts estimated total annual savings of at least $34.3 million through subcontracting.  They directed the savings to property tax relief and retaining/hiring teaching staff, as well as to classroom programs, supplies and equipment.  This information makes for a compelling argument.

Aggressive action—in the form of local school boards’ outreach to their representatives in Trenton—is the other critical element in stopping bad bills. With S-1191 and A-3627 moving through the legislature, the time to act is now.  NJSBA has created a sample resolution that boards can adopt to express their opposition to the concept behind these bills.  The document is available on our homepage at staging.njsba.org. I urge your board to consider the resolution at its next meeting.

Tenure-Like Protection The second piece of poor public policy involves binding arbitration for non-certificated staff.

Last summer, the heralded TEACH for New Jersey was signed into law, basing continuation of tenure on performance.  It marked a dramatic change in the relationship between public school employers and certificated staff.

Legislation that moves in the opposite direction by giving “tenure-like” protection to non-certificated staff is now advancing in the Senate and Assembly.  One bill, S-2163, passed the Senate today (March 18); its Assembly counterpart, A-3696, is in position for a vote by the full Assembly.

The bills would give employees, such as teacher assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria aides, the right to binding arbitration over virtually any disciplinary action, ranging from reprimands to withholding increments and non-renewal of employment. The right to binding arbitration would be granted regardless of the school district’s reason for the action.

In effect, the proposal would inhibit a school district’s ability to make sound personnel management decisions.  For example, if a school district faced a budgetary shortfall or a decline in student enrollment, its decision to eliminate the position of a non-teaching staff position would be subject to binding arbitration.

You can find your legislators’ contact information on the website of the Office of Legislative Services (www.njleg.state.nj.us) which, like NJSBA, is non-partisan.  Contact information for the Governor’s Office is available at http://www.nj.gov/governor/contact.

Decisions made in Trenton affect schools; bad decisions have a lasting, negative impact.  The bills described above are poor public policy; our state leaders need to hear that message from us now.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at feinsodreflections@njsba.org.

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