On Monday, March 14, the full Senate unanimously approved legislation that would provide school districts with an additional tool to enhance school safety and security. The bill, S-86, would establish a new category of “Class Three” special law enforcement officers (SLEOs) who would be specifically authorized to provide security in the state’s public and nonpublic schools, as well as county colleges. Such officers would be authorized to provide security at a school while they are on school premises during hours when the school is normally in session or when it is occupied by students or their teachers. To be eligible to serve in this capacity, Class Three SLEOs would be required to:
- Be retired police officers less than 65 years old;
- Have served as duly qualified, fully-trained, full-time municipal or county police officers, or as members of the State Police;
- Be separated from that prior service in good standing within three years of appointment as a Class Three SLEO (or within five years during the first year following the bill’s enactment);
- Be physically capable of performing the functions of the position;
- Possess N.J. Police Training Commission Basic Police Officer Certification or NJ State Police Academy Certification;
- Complete the training course for safe school resource officers (SROs); and
- Be hired in a part-time capacity.
Unlike Class One and Class Two SLEOs, Class Three officers would not be subject to the statutory 20-hour work week limit. In addition, Class Three SLEOs would not be eligible for any health care or retirement benefits. The restrictions on carrying a firearm currently applicable to Class Two special officers would also apply to Class Three SLEOs. Class Three officers would not be authorized to carry a firearm while off duty.
The NJSBA strongly supports this innovative legislation. In its October 2014 final report, the NJSBA’s School Security Task Force recommended that the state establish a new category of SLEOs to provide security in schools. And in July 2015, the “New Jersey School Security Task Force” that was established through legislation in 2013 included a similar recommendation in its July 2015 final report. This bill would essentially codify the substance of those task forces’ proposals into law. In addition to the NJSBA, several other stakeholders representing both the law enforcement and educational communities have endorsed the measure.
The Senate also passed the following education-related bills:
S-177 establishes a 16-member “Task Force of School District Regionalization” in the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE). The task force, which will include one member appointed upon the recommendation of the NJSBA, will study and evaluate issues associated with school district regionalization, and make recommendations regarding the provision of incentives and the elimination of impediments to regionalization. If S-177 becomes law, the task force will be required to issue a final report to the governor and the Legislature within six months of its organization. NJSBA supports the legislation.
S-381 prohibits school districts from joining associations which oversee statewide interscholastic sports (i.e., the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association) unless the association limits student-athletes who repeat a middle school grade to only six consecutive semesters of interscholastic eligibility after entering ninth grade. The bill is designed to help curtail the practice whereby student-athletes seek to gain athletic advantage at the high school level by repeating sixth, seventh, or eighth grade, despite having met the academic requirements for those grades.
S-792 permits newly-created regional school districts or enlarging regional school districts to determine apportionment methodology for their boards of education on a basis other than population. NJSBA supports this bill, which allows districts apportionment options, pending voter approval.
Assembly Voting Session
The full General Assembly also held a voting session on Monday and approved the following bill impacting school districts:
A-1657 would establish a “breakfast after the bell” incentive fund. This bill requires the state Department of Agriculture, in consultation with NJDOE, to develop and administer an incentive fund that will provide a 10-cent per breakfast supplement to the existing federal reimbursement to school districts that participate in the federal school breakfast program. The bill provides that a public school district with schools that participate in the federal school breakfast program that serve “breakfast after the bell” with 20 to 100 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced price breakfast would be eligible for this additional reimbursement. NJSBA is monitoring this legislation.