Legislation that would infringe on a board of education’s responsibility to make prompt and responsive personnel decisions in the interest of the community was pulled from the state Senate’s agenda on Thursday, Aug. 27. The NJSBA joined several other statewide education organizations in aggressively opposing the legislation, including the N.J. Principals and Supervisors Association, Garden State Coalition of Schools, and N.J. Association of School Administrators.

The Senate was poised to take a floor vote on S-2843, a bill that would grant special employment protections to high school athletic coaches, including three-year contracts for head coaches and two-year agreements for assistants. The legislation had been advanced by the Senate and Budget Appropriations Committee last Monday.

After the bill was released from committee and quickly posted for a floor vote, the NJSBA issued an advocacy alert urging local school board members to contact their state Senator and respectfully urge him or her to vote “NO” on the bill. The Association thanks all board members who assisted in our advocacy efforts in opposing this troubling legislation. The bill’s prospects moving forward are unclear at this time, but Thursday’s inaction by the Senate constitutes a positive development. 

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 would 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 would then decide whether to affirm, reject or modify the decision of the district official making the recommendation. Any decision could 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 Association has expressed concern that this bill 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. A copy of NJSBA’s full testimony on the bill can be found here. 

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. 

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 the implementation of the “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.