The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee met on Monday, Aug. 24 and advanced the following education-related legislation:
Athletic Coach Contracts S-2843 establishes measures to provide employment stability for high school coaches employed in school districts. Specifically, the bill provides that a head coach of an athletic activity at a public high school must receive an employment contract for a three-year term, and an assistant coach must receive a two-year contract. At the conclusion of the term of the contract, the coach will be deemed reappointed for the appropriate term unless the board notifies the coach in writing, at least 90 days before the contract’s expiration, that he will not be reappointed.
The bill also provides that an athletic coach at a public high school may be dismissed or reduced in compensation during the term of a contract only for just cause and may not be dismissed for arbitrary, capricious, or unlawful reasons. A coach who is dismissed or reduced in compensation must receive a written notice for the basis of the dismissal or reduction within five days after the decision is made a by a school district official, but prior to the board of education taking any further action. After receiving such a notice, the bill provides the coach with the right to appear at a hearing before the board of education. The coach would be entitled to present witnesses and to question any officials involved in the decision-making process regarding the coach’s employment status. After the hearing, the board will then decide whether to affirm, reject or modify the decision of the district official making the recommendation. Any decision may then be appealed to the commissioner of education. In the case of a coach who is also a tenured employee, the bill provides that if the coach’s dismissal is based on a poor annual evaluation, the coach must be provided “one year in which to correct and overcome any identified deficiencies.”
NJSBA Opposes Measure The NJSBA, along with its colleagues from the N.J. Principals and Supervisors Association and Garden State Coalition of Schools, publicly testified in opposition to the bill.
The Association expressed concern that it will inhibit boards of education from making prompt and decisive personnel decisions they deem necessary or appropriate. The NJSBA believes that the legislation overreaches into employment and personnel matters that fall under the purview of the board of education, in conjunction with the district superintendent, and should not be dictated by statute.
Existing laws and regulations, along with collective bargaining agreements, provide various protections against unjust terminations, raising questions about the need for the bill. In addition, as coaches are currently appointed to one-year terms that must be renewed annually, the legislation constitutes a drastic departure from the status quo, thus necessitating more extensive deliberation. It also creates a separate playing field and affords a variety of employment protections to athletic coaches currently unavailable to other staff overseeing extracurricular activities.
The New Jersey State Senate is scheduled to hold a floor vote on S-2843 on Thursday Aug. 27. On Aug. 25 NJSBA sent an email to members urging them to contact their state Senator and respectfully urge him or her to vote “NO” on the bill. To access a sample letter expressing opposition to S-2843, click here.
According to media reports, one of the impetuses for this bill is that several coaches have alleged the state’s anti-bullying laws have been weaponized against them by parents and forced their unfair dismissal. A 2019 law that established a task force to examine and make recommendations regarding implementation of “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act” explicitly charges that body with examining any unintended impacts of the law on athletic coaches. As that task force has not yet completed its work, the NJSBA argued that any bill concerning employment protections for coaches is premature at this time.
On Thursday, Aug. 20, the Senate Education Committee convened and advanced the following bills:
Priority Hiring Pool S-1848 would create a statewide priority hiring pool comprised of former school employees whose positions were eliminated as a result of their employing district experiencing a reduction in school aid under the provisions of the 2018 school funding reform legislation commonly referred to as “S-2.” Under the bill, when a school district that has experienced an increase in state aid under S-2 has a vacant position, a qualified individual who is a member of the priority hiring pool must be given an opportunity to interview for the position before the school district may consider applicants who are not members of the priority hiring pool.
NJSBA appreciates the sponsor’s intent to increase employment opportunities for teachers who have been displaced due to the negative impact S-2 may have had on a district’s finances, rather than as a result of any performance or disciplinary issues. The NJSBA believes that the creation of a pool of qualified individuals could serve as valuable resource to administrators and boards of education when they seek to fill vacancies, especially in certain hard–to–fill positions. However, while supportive of the intent, the NJSBA cannot endorse this specific approach as it has the potential to significantly prolong the hiring process and prevent administrators and boards of education from making prompt hiring decisions. The mandate to interview could also result in a significantly protracted hiring process if there is a large number of eligible candidates who wish to interview for the position, which could result in a waste of time and resources for both the district and applicants. The NJSBA expressed its concerns to the sponsor and the full committee. The bill is not expected to proceed to a floor vote until these concerns have been addressed.
Meeting the 180-Day School Year Requirement S–2724 would require the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, for the 2020-2021 school year, to permit school districts to use a combination of in-person and virtual or remote instruction to meet the requirement that a school district be open for at least 180 days in order to receive state school aid. The program of in-person and virtual or remote instruction must meet any criteria established by the commissioner. With the board of education’s approval, a district that wants to use a program of in-person and virtual or remote instruction must submit its proposed program to the commissioner within 30 days of the bill’s effective date. However, if the school district is unable to complete and submit its proposed program within that period and prior to the scheduled start of the school year, the commissioner may retroactively approve the program. Nothing in the bill, however, would prohibit a school district from using only virtual or remote learning. NJSBA supports this bill, which was approved by the Senate Education Committee and heads to the full Senate for a vote.
NJQSAC Review S–2404 postpones the comprehensive review of certain school districts under the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) until the 2021-2022 school year.
Under current law, each school district is required to undergo a comprehensive review under the state monitoring system, the NJQSAC. Each school district is currently required to undergo the comprehensive review once every three years according to a schedule established by the education commissioner. As a result, only a certain number of school districts can be monitored during any given year.
Under the bill, the comprehensive review of certain districts would be postponed to allow school districts and the NJDOE to focus additional resources on addressing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the bill requires the comprehensive review to be conducted during the 2021-2022 school year for any school district that was required to undergo its review during (1) the 2019-2020 school year, whose review was not completed due to the COVID-19-related school closures; or (2) the 2020-2021 school year.
If a school district receives a comprehensive review during the 2021-2022 school as a result of the postponement, the district would be required to undergo its next review as if the postponement had not occurred (i.e., three years after the school year in which the review was originally scheduled to take place). The bill allows school districts to make a request to the commissioner for an exemption from the postponement. The bill also stipulates that the postponements required under the bill may not disrupt the schedule for any other school district’s comprehensive review. NJSBA supports this bill, which now heads to the full Senate for approval.
Depression Screenings for Students A–970/S–2259 would require public schools to administer written screenings for depression in students in certain grades. The bill passed the Senate Education committee and is now in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
NJSBA has supported this bill, although it has expressed concerns and will continue to advocate for amendments, including one that says that students should receive a screening for depression either by a physician at an annual physical or at school. The Association has also asked for clarification on whether screenings should take place only if students are physically in school, or whether there should be a virtual process, as well, and has asked that the bill take effect the next full school year following the date of enactment.
FAFSA Information S–68 would require school districts to provide information on the free application for federal student aid to students in grades 11 and 12. The bill passed the Senate Education committee and has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
NJSBA opposed the original language of the bill. The bill has been amended, and now requires each school district to incorporate information in grades 11 and 12 on the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Career Readiness, Life Literacies, and Key Skills, and to encourage –rather than require—students and their parent or guardian to complete the application. The committee also amended the bill to change the effective date to the first full school year following the date of enactment.
Quarantine Restrictions S–2401 would prohibit public school students and employees from immediately returning to school after traveling to certain places during public health emergencies. If a student, teaching staff member or other employee of a school district travels outside of the United States, or to a state or territory of the U.S. that is designated in a quarantine travel advisory, then the person may not return to school until the termination of the public health emergency, the completion of 14 calendar days following the date of return to New Jersey, or the removal of the state or territory from the quarantine travel advisory, whichever occurs first.
Under the bill, a student, teaching staff member, or other employee of a school district may participate in virtual or remote instruction during any period in which the person’s physical absence is required. The bill also provides that any student whose absence is mandated under the bill would have that absence recorded as an excused absence on the student’s attendance record.
NJSBA expressed concerns with the bill, and obtained amendments.
Cooperative Purchasing of COVID-19 Related Goods S–2698 requires the state to enter into contracts and coordinate with certain cooperative purchasing systems for the procurement of COVID-19 related goods and services by school districts and county colleges. NJSBA supports the bill. This bill was also released in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Monday Aug. 24.
As amended, this bill requires the state to enter into contracts and coordinate with certain cooperative purchasing systems to assist public schools (i.e., school districts, charter schools, and renaissance schools) and county colleges in the purchase of COVID-19 related goods and services.
Under the bill, the director of the Division of Purchase and Property in the state Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the New Jersey Commissioner of Education and the Secretary of Higher Education, would be required to award contracts for the procurement of COVID-19 related goods and services by public schools and county colleges. The bill also requires the director to coordinate with the lead agency of any state-approved cooperative purchasing system that includes a public school or county college to provide for the procurement of COVID-19 related goods and services. The bill permits the state to award contracts to more than one bidder.
Additionally, the bill permits public schools and county colleges to purchase COVID-19 related goods and services, without advertising for bids, through any contract that is entered into by the Division of Purchase and Property, or made available through a state-approved cooperative purchasing system of which the school or college is a member. The bill also requires the New Jersey Department of Education and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education to coordinate the purchase of COVID-19 related goods and services by public schools and county colleges, respectively.
The committee amended the bill to:
- clarify that charter schools and renaissance schools are included in the bill’s definition of “board of education” and “school district”;
- require the director to coordinate with the lead agency of any state-approved cooperative purchasing system that includes one or more public schools to provide for the procurement of COVID-19 related goods and services;
- authorize public schools to purchase COVID-19 related goods and services using any contract that is made available through a state-approved cooperative purchasing system of which the school is a member;
- require the director to award a contract or contracts, and coordinate with the lead agency of any state-approved cooperative purchasing system that includes one or more county colleges, to provide for the procurement of COVID-19 related goods and services by county colleges;
- authorize county colleges to purchase COVID-19 related goods and services through any contract that is entered into by the division or made available through a state-approved cooperative purchasing system of which the college is a member; and
- require the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education to coordinate the purchase of COVID-19 related goods and services by county colleges under the bill.