On Saturday March 6, the NJSBA Legislative Committee hosted Democratic Sen. Vin Gopal, from Monmouth County, to discuss school district regionalization and other issues.

Sen. Gopal is a sponsor of S-3488, which would make school district regionalization easier. He was joined by Mark Magyar, associate director of the Senate Majority and a previous guest of the Legislative Committee. Magyar referenced “ Impediments to School District Regionalization,” an NJSBA research paper prepared in 2018 for the governor’s office.

S-3488 establishes criteria for state-funded regionalization studies, increases flexibility on regionalization cost apportionment, and bars any regionalization that would encourage segregation. The bill also provides financial incentives for districts that are losing state aid due to declining enrollment to regionalize by extending the schedule for their Adjustment Aid cuts from four years to eight years. Most importantly, and emphasized during the meeting, the bill includes no mandate or other requirement for any school district to regionalize. Rather, the goals stated by Gopal and Magyar are to incentivize districts to at least consider regionalization.

Beyond the regionalization conversation, Sen. Gopal discussed cannabis reform, especially in light of the recent enactment of legalization measures. The senator plans on introducing legislation permitting parental notification when minors are caught possessing or consuming marijuana. Under a new law decriminalizing marijuana, law enforcement is prohibited from notifying parents upon a first offense. This has been a contentious issue and is expected to be addressed through clean-up legislation.

Sen. Gopal also acknowledged the need for revisiting Chapter 44 to help districts that are not realizing the health cost savings that were anticipated when this reform was first discussed. Finally, he voiced support that teachers and other school professionals have recently been prioritized for COVID vaccination. He said he hoped this could lead to schools being open 100% before the end of the academic year.