On June 10, the Assembly Education Committee approved legislation that would repeal the superintendent salary cap.  Passage of this legislation has been an advocacy goal of the Association for several legislative sessions. The bill has already been approved by the Senate, but this is the first time the measure, first introduced in 2014, has been taken up by an Assembly committee. Monday’s action represents significant progress toward getting the measure to the finish line, and the bill may now be posted for a floor vote by the full General Assembly.

The NJSBA submitted testimony to the committee and indicated its strong support for the legislation.

“Superintendents’ compensation should be determined at the local school board level and not by officials in Trenton,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director, following the committee’s favorable action on the bill. “Local school district administrative expenditures are already controlled by an administrative spending growth limit, the 2% tax levy cap, and Department of Education review of administrator contracts.

“Local boards of education need the discretion over superintendent compensation to ensure that they are able to attract and retain the school leader that is best for their education program,” he continued.

“Our Association has played an active role in supporting this legislation. We thank Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, chair of the education committee, for posting the legislation. In addition, NJSBA is grateful to Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, lead sponsor of A-3775, for her  efforts in advocating for the bill’s approval in the Assembly.”

The following provides a summary of all bills approved by the education committee and any others that advanced education-related bills on Monday.  Both the Senate and Assembly also held voting sessions on Monday and approved a handful of bills being tracked by NJSBA.

Assembly Education Committee

The committee advanced the following bills:

Superintendent Salary CapA-3775/S-692 prohibits the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) from regulating the maximum salary amount a school district may pay its superintendent of schools. The superintendent salary caps originally went into effect in February 2011 and were later renewed, with some modifications, in the spring of 2017. They are now set to expire in 2024. According to data collected by NJSBA in February 2014, the cap has been a major factor in superintendent turnover and has resulted in a decrease in experience levels of superintendent candidates. When the restriction was proposed and later readopted, the NJSBA expressed opposition, terming it an unnecessary “cap within caps,” as several controls are already in place to ensure accountability and fiscal prudence in administrative spending. These controls include the 2% tax levy cap; statutory limits on the annual growth of school district administrative expenditures; and oversight and review of school administrator contracts and compensation by the NJDOE. The NJSBA also opposes the superintendent salary cap due to the negative impact it has on the quality, stability and continuity of public education across the state.

The committee amended the bill to essentially codify the existing NJDOE fiscal accountability regulations that govern the terms and conditions for review and approval of superintendent contracts.  If passed by the full Assembly, the bill will need to return to the Senate to concur with those changes.  The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 24-15 in early 2018.

Several boards of education across the state have adopted resolutions expressing formal support for the legislation.  Those wishing to do so can find a copy of a sample resolution on the NJSBA website.

Mental Health EducationS-2861/S-3081 and A-4592/A-4446 requires school districts to ensure that their health education programs for students in grades kindergarten through 12 recognize the multiple dimensions of health by including mental health, and the relationship between physical and mental health, to enhance student understanding, attitudes, and behaviors that promote health, well-being, and human dignity.  The instruction in mental health must be adapted to the age and understanding of the students.  The instruction will include information on substance abuse.

The legislation also directs the State Board of Education to review and update the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education to ensure the incorporation of instruction in mental health in an appropriate place in the curriculum of students in grades kindergarten through 12. In its review, the State Board is directed to consult with mental health experts.

Apprenticeship Pilot Program A-4657/S-3065 directs the education commissioner to establish a three-year youth apprenticeship pilot program to provide high school and college students between the ages of 16 and 21 an opportunity to develop valuable work skills while continuing their traditional education program. Under the bill, a school district or institution of higher education that wants to participate in the program must submit a proposal to the commissioner which outlines the district’s or institution’s plan to offer intensive career counseling and a customized learning experience to participating students. The commissioner will select two districts in each of the southern, central, and northern regions of the state and will select, in collaboration with the New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education, four institutions of higher education to participate in the program. The commissioner of education is directed to submit a report to the governor and the Legislature on the implementation of the pilot program and his recommendation on the feasibility of implementing the program on a statewide basis. NJSBA supports the measure.

Later School Start Time PilotA-4865/S-3160 establishes a four-year pilot program in the NJDOE on later school start times for high school students. The program would implement later school start times for high school students in selected school districts and study the issues, benefits, and options for instituting a later start time to the school day. The commissioner will select five school districts from urban, suburban, and rural areas of the state to participate in the pilot program. NJSBA supports the bill.

Athletic Coach Contracts A-5007 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.”

The NJSBA publicly testified in opposition to the legislation in its current form and 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 measure is still very early in the legislative process. Conversations with the sponsor on ways to address the Association’s concerns are ongoing and will continue before the bill receives a floor vote.

Tuition Setting for PSSDs The committee advanced two measures that would alter how tuition rates are calculated for approved private schools for students with disabilities (APSSDs):

A-5220 permits approved private schools for students with disabilities to include in tuition calculations hourly rates for healthcare provider consultants, which equal average hourly rates paid by certain public schools serving students with disabilities. This bill would permit an approved private school for students with disabilities (APSSD) to include in the calculation of the certified actual cost per student a total maximum hourly rate for a licensed healthcare provider it hires as a consultant that does not exceed the statewide average hourly rate paid by county special services school districts and educational services commissions. Under current state law, the APSSD may not charge a tuition rate to sending school districts which exceeds the actual cost per student, and State Board of Education regulations determine which costs are permitted to be included in the calculation of the actual cost per student. The bill permits approved private schools for students with disabilities to include in the tuition calculation hourly rates for healthcare provider consultants, which equal average hourly rates paid by certain public schools serving students with disabilities.

Currently, the hourly rate paid by an APSSD to psychiatrists and physicians with proper medical credentials is limited to the maximum allowable salary which may be paid by the APSSD to its chief school administrators, executive directors, or directors, or the hourly breakdown of this amount.  If a psychiatrist or physician charges the APSSD a higher rate, the APSSD may not include the excess amount in the tuition rate charged to school districts.

A-5221/S-3288 requires NJDOE to define expenditures for behavior modification at approved private schools for students with disabilities as allowable instructional cost for the purpose of setting a tuition rate. According to the bill statement, behavior modification is an evidenced-based instructional strategy and is a vital component to the individualized education program (IEP) for many students with disabilities, including those with autism and emotional disabilities.

Professional Development Task Force A-5428 establishes a task force to examine, evaluate, and make recommendations regarding the current professional development (PD) requirements for public school teachers and school leaders in New Jersey. The task force will include various education stakeholders, including a representative recommended by the NJSBA.  Under the bill, the task force will be charged with:

  • Studying the current PD requirements for public school teachers and school leaders established pursuant to state statutes and State Board of Education regulations;
  • Evaluating the scope of the current PD requirements including an assessment of the particular topics covered, the overall number of requirements, and the hours and frequency of the requirements; and
  • Making recommendations concerning PD, including recommendations regarding the necessity and relevance of the trainings currently required, whether the requirements may be overly burdensome in number or frequency, whether more or less time should be devoted to particular subject matters, and topics not covered that may be advisable to include in the requirements.

NJSBA policy holds to the belief that the implementation of the state’s mandatory continuing education and professional development requirements for educators and other school staff should be continually monitored. Such monitoring is appropriate to identify any difficulties that arise in local districts and to identify the changes in code or legislation that may be necessary to rectify any fiscal, operational and educational problems caused by the requirements. Therefore, the NJSBA supports the measure.

Assembly State and Local Government Committee

The committee advanced the following bill affecting public school districts:

Interim Superintendent ContractsA-5375 modifies an exception to the reenrollment requirement for certain retired members of the teachers’ pension fund (TPAF).  It allows a TPAF retiree to be employed, without reenrollment in TPAF, by a board of education as a certificated superintendent or a certificated administrator on a contractual basis for a period that exceeds two years when the commissioner of education determines that it is in the “best interests of the school district.” NJSBA supports the bill, which is scheduled to receive further consideration by the Assembly Appropriations Committee this Thursday.

Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee

The committee advanced the following education-related bill:

STEM Opportunities for Young Women & MinoritiesA-5301 directs the NJDOE to develop and administer an outreach program to encourage young women and minorities to pursue post-secondary degrees and careers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field. NJSBA supports the bill.

Assembly Voting Session

The full Assembly approved the following school-related bill:

“Safe Haven” Instruction  A-1380/S-1126 requires the NJDOE to review the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Comprehensive Health and Physical Education to ensure that information on the provisions of the “New Jersey Safe Haven Infant Protection Act,” is included in the standards for public school students in grades 9 through 12. That law allows an individual to give up an unwanted infant safely, legally and anonymously. The bill also mandates that the NJDOE, in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, take appropriate action to ensure that each school district incorporates education on the act that is age-appropriate for high school students.  NJSBA supports the bill, which would go into effect in the 2020-2021 school year. The bill returns to the Senate, which passed a previous version of the bill, to concur with amendments made in the Assembly.

Senate Voting Session

The full Senate approved the following measure, which has now passed both houses of the Legislature and heads to the governor’s desk:

New Anti-Bullying Task ForceS-2575/A-4848 establishes an 11-member task force to examine, evaluate, and make recommendations regarding the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.”  Eight members of the task force will have a background or special knowledge of the legal, policy, educational, social, or psychological aspects of bullying in public schools. The chairperson of the Anti-Bullying Task Force, established pursuant to a 2012 law, will serve as one of the eleven members.  The task force also will include two members of the public, a family member of a student who has experienced bullying and a student over the age of 17 who personally has experienced bullying.

The task force will examine and evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation of the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.” It will also examine any unintended consequences resulting from implementation of the act and its regulations including, but not limited to, impacts of the law on athletic coaches; and present any recommendations deemed necessary and appropriate to modify or update the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act” and its implementing regulations. NJSBA supports the bill.