Last Thursday, Assembly committees met at the State House and advanced legislation of significance to local boards of education and students, including two bills strongly opposed by the NJSBA that would adversely affect a board’s ability to effectively manage staff and resources.  A summary of the day’s most significant education-related activity follows below.

Assembly Labor Committee

The Assembly Labor Committee considered two bills that have been pending in the Legislature for several sessions and have been strongly opposed by the NJSBA.  Both bills were approved by the committee and may now proceed to an Assembly floor vote.

Anti-Subcontracting Measure A-3395 concerns subcontracting agreements entered into by public school districts. Specifically, the bill imposes the following conditions and requirements on any school district considering the subcontracting of non-instructional services and personnel, such as paraprofessionals, food services, pupil transportation, custodial services, building and grounds:

  • Makes the employer’s decision to subcontract a mandatory subject of negotiations;
  • Prohibits subcontracting during the term that a collective bargaining agreement is in effect;
  • Requires the employer to provide written notice to any union that may be impacted by the decision to subcontract at least 90 days prior to soliciting bids for a subcontracting agreement;
  • Provides the union the right to meet and consult with the board of education to discuss the decision to subcontract and the opportunity to engage in negotiations over the impact of subcontracting; and
  • Grants any employee replaced or displaced by the subcontracting agreement any previously acquired seniority and recall rights whenever the subcontracting ends.

Taken together, the burdensome and costly provisions of A-3395 would severely inhibit the ability of a board of education to subcontract services.  The NJSBA believes the decision to subcontract a service is – and must remain – a non-negotiable, managerial prerogative so that boards of education can effectively and efficiently manage their resources and quickly respond to a fiscal emergency. The lengthy negotiations, notice and arbitration requirements would impede a district’s ability to use subcontracting to respond to a budget crisis and effectively makes the subcontracting option no option at all.

In testimony before the committee, the NJSBA argued that students and taxpayers would be harmed by the requirements imposed by A-3395.  By essentially taking the subcontracting option off the table, boards of education will be forced to consider other alternatives to balance their budgets, such as cuts in programs and services, teacher layoffs, tax increases, or some combination of the three.  None of these options are in the best interests of either students or taxpayers and should only be employed as a last resort.

School districts are under constant pressure to control the growth of property taxes while delivering high-quality educational programs and services.  The 2 percent property tax levy cap combined with the state’s failure to meet its statutory obligations under the School Funding Reform Act have made this a difficult balancing act.  Furthermore, with the recent changes to the school funding formula that will result in reductions in state aid for approximately one-third of the state’s school districts, it is critical that districts have the tools they need to maintain New Jersey’s status as having one the best educational products in the nation. Subcontracting has a proven track record of success and is therefore a financial management tool that must remain available and viable to our members.

Some form of this legislation has been pending for roughly 30 years.  Fortunately, it has never been signed into law as it either eventually stalled in the Legislature or was vetoed upon reaching the governor’s desk, most recently by former Governor Christie in 2013.  The NJSBA has consistently opposed previous measures and will continue to aggressively advocate against its enactment moving forward. Other organizations joining the NJSBA in opposition include the Garden State Coalition of Schools, the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, the New Jersey State League of Municipalities and the New Jersey Association of Counties.

Tenure-Like Protections for Support Staff The committee also advanced A-3664, which concerns arbitration for non-teaching school staff.  If enacted, the legislation would grant a non-teaching staff member the right to submit to binding arbitration virtually any disciplinary action taken by a board of education against the individual.  The bill includes an expansive definition of disciplinary action to include reprimands, withholding of increments, terminations or non-renewals, expiration or lapse of  employment, or lack of continuation of employment.  Furthermore, it permits the employee to submit to binding arbitration any dispute regarding a disciplinary action regardless of the reason behind the employer’s action.

The NJSBA strongly opposes the measure as it would prevent districts from effectively managing employee conduct and performance.  If enacted, the provision of A-3664 will impede a district’s ability to respond to a budgetary shortfall, a decline in enrollment, or changing educational needs or priorities.  It will also likely lead to costly litigation that will force school districts to spend a greater share of their limited resources in the courtroom rather than in the classroom.

The Association expressed particularly strong concerns with the provision that could subject the non-renewal of a non-teaching staff member to binding arbitration.  This essentially grants these staff members tenure-like employment security that takes their certificated staff counterparts four years of satisfactory performance in the classroom to earn.  The NJSBA argued that the employees covered by this legislation operate under fixed-term contracts and that the board of education must annually decide, after thoughtful deliberation, whether or not they will be offered continued employment for another year.  Non-renewals are not inherently disciplinary.  Rather the decision to not renew a staff member is typically based on economic (i.e., reduced state aid) or educational (i.e., a drop in student enrollment) factors.  Unfortunately, the legislation explicitly ignores any economic or educational rationale behind the board’s decision to not renew an individual’s employment.

In testimony before the committee, the NJSBA highlighted the fact that school districts across the state are experiencing declines in both enrollment and state aid.  Therefore, it is imperative that that the Legislature not tie their hands when they are confronted with difficult but necessary personnel reductions.  Instead, they should empower boards of education to make sound managerial decisions in order to make the most efficient use of their resources.  Unfortunately, this legislation goes in the exact opposite direction.

A previous version of this legislation was passed by the Legislature in 2013, but vetoed by Governor Christie.

Assembly Education Committee

Full-Day Kindergarten Task ForceA-654 establishes a 22-member task force to study and evaluate issues associated with the implementation of full-day kindergarten. The task force, which will include a representative of the NJSBA, will be required to issue a final report to the governor and the Legislature within one year of its organization. NJSBA supports the bill.

Civics Course RequirementA-1095 requires a course in civics or U.S. government as part of high school graduation requirements and requires school districts to use the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) curriculum guidelines for civics. Under current State Board of Education regulations, high school students are required to complete at least 15 credits in social studies, including the completion of a two-year course in United States history and five credits in world history; with the integration of civics, economics, geography and global content in all course offerings.  This bill directs the State Board to require at least one course specifically in civics or United States government as part of the social studies credit requirement for high school graduation.  The requirement would begin with the 2020-2021 ninth grade class. The bill also amends current law to require, rather than permit, school districts to use the NJDOE’s curriculum guidelines.

The NJSBA expressed concerns, has had discussions with the sponsor, and hopes to work with the legislature moving forward. Concerns expressed included:

  • If the legislation mandates a full year course – it may be a hardship on the district to fit into the high school curriculum.
  • US History I and II already incorporate certain topics of civics in the curriculum, which may cause an audit to determine what already has been covered and what would need to be added.
  • In a percentage of districts, a full year of civics is already offered in middle school. It needs to be determined if a separate course in high school is needed as well.
  • If the bill moves forward – NJSBA requested implementation for the 2020-21 school year.

Title IX Rights and ResponsibilitiesA-3147 requires each public school, and each nonpublic school which receives federal funds and is subject to the requirements of Title IX, to post on its website the following information:  the rights afforded to a student and the responsibilities of the school under Title IX;  the name and contact information of the Title IX coordinator for the school, including the Title IX coordinator’s phone number and email address; and the procedure to file a complaint under Title IX. The bill also requires the Commissioner of Education to annually disseminate through electronic means a letter to each public school, and to each nonpublic school subject to the requirements of Title IX, informing the school of the rights afforded to a student and the responsibilities of the school under Title IX. Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally-funded education program or activity. NJSBA supports the bill which now heads to the full Assembly for a vote.

Suicide Prevention A-3408 requires certain non-teaching staff members to complete a training program on suicide prevention. Under current law, public school teaching staff members receive instruction in suicide prevention as part of their professional development requirements.  This bill says that an employee who is not subject to the current professional development requirement, as well as those under contract with the board who have regular and direct contact with students, will be required to complete a one-time training program in suicide prevention, awareness, and response.

The bill also directs the NJDOE, in consultation with various stakeholders, to: 1) develop free training programs on suicide prevention, awareness, and response; and 2)  develop an educational fact sheet on suicide prevention, awareness, and response.  The educational fact sheet will be made available on the department’s website and distributed at no charge to all school districts.  Each school district and contracted service provider is to annually provide to its employees the educational fact sheet and guidelines on the school district’s reporting and suicide prevention, awareness, and response protocols. NJSBA supports the measure.

Eye Exam RequirementA-4310/S-2804 requires young children entering public schools or Head Start Programs for the first time to have a comprehensive eye examination completed. As amended, this bill directs the State Board of Education to require each child age 6 and under who is entering a public preschool, public school, or a Head Start Program to have a comprehensive eye examination completed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist by January 1 of the child’s initial year of enrollment in the school or program.  The New Jersey Department of Health will maintain a list of resources from which a parent or guardian may obtain a free or reduced-price comprehensive eye examination.  The list will be posted on the Department of Health’s website and be provided to each public preschool, public school, and Head Start Program.

A principal, director, or other person in charge of a public preschool, public school, or Head Start Program must collect from the child’s parent or guardian evidence of the child’s comprehensive eye examination. A comprehensive eye examination that was performed no more than one year prior to a child’s initial enrollment in a public preschool, public school, or Head Start Program will satisfy the requirements under the bill. NJSBA supports the bill, which has been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Financial Literacy Month AJR-118 designates April of each year as “Financial Literacy Month” in New Jersey.  This joint resolution improves the understanding of the state’s citizens of critical financial issues such as credit management, savings, debt management, and homeownership, and to significantly increase an individual’s likelihood of financial success. The governor is requested to annually issue a proclamation recognizing April as “Financial Literacy Month” in New Jersey and calling upon schools, financial institutions, nonprofit financial educational organizations, the citizens of the state, and other interested groups to observe the month with appropriate activities and programs. NJSBA supports the resolution.

Assembly Science and Technology Committee

The committee advanced the following education-related bill:

Protection of Student Records and DataA-4978 prohibits an operator of an online education service offering education for grades kindergarten through 12 from knowingly:

  • using information, including educational records, created or gathered by the operator, to amass a profile about a student for any purpose other than the furtherance of kindergarten through 12th grade education;
  • disclosing an educational record collected or maintained by the service unless the disclosure is:
    1. required by federal or state law;
    2. made to respond to or participate in a judicial process;
    3. to protect the safety of students or security of the service; or
    4. made for legitimate research purposes.

Nothing in the bill is to be construed to prohibit the operator’s use of educational records for maintaining, developing, supporting, or improving the operator’s service.

The bill requires that an operator of a service is to implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices appropriate to the nature of the educational record; protect that information from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification, or disclosure; and delete an educational record at the request of a school or a school district overseeing the student’s education through the service or a student who has subsequently reached the age of majority.

Further, nothing in the bill is to be construed to prohibit an operator from using de-identified data within the online education service owned by the operator to improve educational products or to demonstrate the effectiveness of the operator’s products or services, including their marketing.

A violation of this bill’s provisions is an unlawful practice and a violation of the consumer fraud act. Thus, any person who violates certain provisions of the bill is liable to a penalty of not more than $10,000 for the first offense and not more than $20,000 for the second and each subsequent offense. Additionally, a violation can result in cease and desist orders issued by the Attorney General, the assessment of punitive damages, and the awarding of treble damages and costs to the injured party.

NJSBA supports the bill and received an amendment requiring consultation with the Commissioner of Education prior to the promulgation of regulations.  The bill may now head to the Assembly floor for a vote.