The Senate and Assembly Education Committees held a joint hearing Sept. 17 and received testimony from Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet on the New Jersey Department of Education’s (NJDOE) plans to reduce the importance of students’ test scores on teacher evaluations.

The commissioner said that the existing tests are too burdensome and that students do not perceive the current PARCC test to be directly connected to post-graduation success.  He said the department’s recommendations are based on meetings held in each of New Jersey’s 21 counties, and numerous meetings in schools and at the NJDOE with students, parents and educators.

The commissioner recommended to the State Board of Education that graduation assessment requirements be simplified and reduced from six statewide assessments in high school to two: Algebra I and ELA 10. He also wants to provide flexibility for first-year English learners on the English language arts tests in high school, reduce the length of testing for all grades by 25 percent, and reduce the weight of the assessment on teacher evaluations to 5 percent.

This is consistent with federal law, which requires students be assessed each year in grades 3 through 8 and once again in high school. The commissioner also recommends that the State Board of Education retain, for the foreseeable future, the multiple graduation pathways currently available to the Class of 2019. This way, if students take the two required assessments but do not pass, they can still graduate by achieving certain scores on assessments such as the SAT, ACT, and Accuplacer.

Senate Education Chair Teresa Ruiz asked the department to provide more details about the proposed new test requirements. She expressed her concern that regulatory approval processes allow time for additional debate and discussion. Additionally, Sen. Ruiz asked about the relationship between the proposed new requirements and federal guidelines.

Assembly Education Chair Pamela Lampitt asked about reducing the weight of the assessment on teacher evaluations to 5 percent.  Dr. Repollet said results, so far, show that the PARCC tests are not necessarily linked to student achievement.

An audio version of the entire hearing is available on the New Jersey Legislature website.

School Bus Safety Bills Advanced

Increasing school bus safety continues to be a major priority of the Legislature.  Three committees met over the last week and advanced various proposals aimed at strengthening New Jersey’s laws governing pupil transportation and school bus driver training and qualifications.

Senate Transportation Committee

Suspending School Bus EndorsementsS-2914 would require the chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to suspend the school bus endorsement on a person’s driver’s license for 90 days if the person is convicted of three or more motor vehicle moving violations in a three-year period or accumulates six or more motor vehicle penalty points while operating a commercial or non-commercial motor vehicle.  Prior to reinstating the school bus endorsement that would be suspended under provisions of the bill, the person would be required to complete a defensive driving course.  The chief administrator would be authorized to impose additional requirements for reinstatement of the school bus endorsement as the administrator deems appropriate. NJSBA supports the bill.

Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee

School Bus Safety StudyA-4224/S-2754 would direct the education commissioner to study school bus accidents to see how safety could be improved. The impact of various safety technologies that could be installed in school buses, such as speed restrictors, automatic braking, and electronic stability control would be assessed. Qualifications of school bus drivers would be studied. The analysis would include an evaluation of the statutory and regulatory requirements relating to school bus safety, the oversight of school bus operations, and the current policies, plans, and procedures implemented by school districts. It would be performed in consultation with the State Police, the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC), and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.  The measure has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further deliberation. NJSBA supports the bill.

Ensuring Driver Physical FitnessS-2848 would require a school bus driver renewing, or an applicant seeking, either a passenger (“P”) endorsement or school bus (“S”) endorsement for his or her commercial driver license (CDL) to submit proof of physical fitness upon license renewal or initial application. Such proof of physical fitness would be in the form of a medical examination and accompanying medical certificate completed by a medical examiner listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.  Under existing federal regulations, CDL holders are already required to pass a physical exam every 24 months.  In addition, the legislation would increase the frequency for proving physical fitness for drivers once they reach the age of 70 (annually) and 75 (every six months).  Lastly, the bill would require that all drivers of buses or any other vehicles used for student transportation submit to a medical exam that includes hearing and visual acuity tests.  NJSBA supports the bill.

Safety Managers and Driver Improvement SupervisorsS-2851 would require that boards of education, as well as contractors that provide school transportation services, designate the following school bus safety personnel:

  • School Bus Safety Managers – The responsibilities of a school bus safety manager would include ensuring compliance with state and federal laws, rules, and regulations regarding school bus safety; providing periodic training in the proper use of emergency equipment; and disseminating industry best practices for avoiding accidents.
  • Supervisors of Driver Improvement – The responsibilities of this position would include providing professional development, including individualized behind-the-wheel training, to school bus drivers; and periodically accompanying school bus drivers on their appointed school bus routes.

The bill directs the chief administrator of the NJMVC to adopt regulations stipulating how many safety manager and driver improvement personnel must be employed based on the number of school bus drivers employed by the board of education or contractor. The regulations would also outline the qualifications necessary to hold the positions and the documentation required to be retained to demonstrate compliance with the bill’s provisions.

The measure explicitly stipulates that the safety manager and supervisor positions may be filled by current employees who meet the qualifications established by the NJMVC. To provide greater clarification to districts that they will be able to comply with the legislation and any additional requirements established by the NJMVC without necessarily needing to hire additional personnel, the NJSBA sought and obtained amendments that changed the term “employ” to “designate” throughout the bill. NJSBA supports the legislation.

Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee

Complying with Federal Safety RegulationsA-4339 would require school bus operations in New Jersey to comply with federal regulations concerning civil rights requirements, noise emissions, certain federal programs, registration and insurance, drug testing, safety fitness procedures, and various safety requirements. According to the bill’s sponsor, school bus operations are already complying with these regulations, so the legislation is codifying common practice. NJSBA supports the bill.

Student ID Cards and Passenger ListsA-4342 would require K-12 public school students to carry identification cards at school-sponsored, off-campus activities and would require principals to keep lists of students on school buses used for school-sponsored activities in case of emergencies.  While NJSBA is supportive of the goal to keep kids safe, NJSBA sought amendments related to implementation of the bill including changing the effective date of the bill to give districts the time they would need to comply and clarifying that the cards and lists are not accessible public records. Amendments obtained by the NJSBA would give flexibility to districts concerning whether students would be required to carry IDs while participating in athletic and other extracurricular activities.

Removing Suspended Drivers from the RoadA-4344 would require a board of education or school bus contractor to provide the NJDOE with a statement, within 24 hours of receiving notification of a bus driver’s license suspension or revocation, verifying that the school bus driver no longer operates a school bus for the board or contractor. Under current law, the NJDOE is notified by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission if a school bus driver has his or her driving privileges suspended or revoked. The NJDOE then provides this information to the appropriate board of education or school bus contractor that employs the driver.  NJSBA supports the bill.

Ensuring Driver Physical FitnessA-4346 would require a school bus driver renewing, or an applicant seeking, either a passenger (“P”) endorsement or school bus (“S”) endorsement for his or her commercial driver license (CDL) to submit proof of physical fitness upon license renewal or initial application. Such proof of physical fitness shall be in the form of a medical examination and accompanying medical certificate completed by a medical examiner listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.  Under existing federal regulations, CDL holders are already required to pass a physical exam every 24 months.  In addition, the legislation increases the frequency for proving physical fitness for drivers once they reach the age of 70 (annually) and 75 (every six months).  Lastly, the bill would require that all drivers of buses or any other vehicles used for student transportation submit to a medical exam that includes hearing and visual acuity tests.  NJSBA supports the measure, which is identical to S-2848 (see above), as advanced by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee last Thursday.

Assembly State and Local Government Committee

Videotaping BOE MeetingsA-3674 would require municipalities and boards of education to record public meetings and post recordings on the Internet.  NJSBA sought amendments to make the bill permissive as it is currently an unfunded mandate.  Additionally, NJSBA sought clarification of the requirement to videotape closed session minutes. The bill was released from the Assembly State and Local Government Committee.

Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee

Requiring public schools to administer written screenings for depression for students in certain grades

A-3926 would require a board of education to ensure that students in grades seven through 12 annually receive a health screening for depression.  The screening would be administered by a qualified professional, including a school psychologist, school nurse, guidance counselor, student assistance counselor, physician, school social worker or any other medical or mental health professional, and would consist of the Patient Health Questionnaire-2 or an equivalent depression screening tool, as determined by the commissioners of education and health.

Under the bill, the NJDOE and the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) would jointly establish standards on the procedures to be implemented to conduct the screenings.  The screenings are to be conducted in a manner that ensures the privacy of the student and the confidentiality of the results.

A superintendent would be required to notify the parent or guardian of a student whose screening for depression detects a suspected deviation from the recommended standard and to encourage the parent or guardian to share the results of the screening with the student’s primary care physician.

Boards of education would be required to forward data concerning depression screenings to the NJDOE and the NJDOH, provided that the forwarded data is aggregated and does not include any identifying or confidential information concerning any individual.  The collected data would be used to identify statewide trends concerning teenage depression and to develop school and community-based initiatives to address teenage depression.

The bill would require the NJDOE and the NJDOH to jointly provide for other screening tools, including, but not limited to, a screening tool for anxiety, such as the General Anxiety Disorder-7 or an equivalent anxiety screening tool, as determined by the commissioners of those departments.

The committee amended the bill to provide that depression screenings would be administered by a qualified professional, including a school psychologist, school nurse, guidance counselor, student assistance counselor, physician, school social worker, or other medical or mental health professional.  As introduced, the bill required the screening to be provided by a school nurse or school physician.

NJSBA testified supporting the intent of the bill with concerns.  The statement was amended so that superintendents would notify parents about results of the screening if necessary instead of the boards of education.

The bill was reported out of committee with amendments and referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee

Hearing on Food Service Contracts

The Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee took testimony for discussion only on contracting with a food service management company, weighing cost reimbursement versus fixed price contracts.

Local food service providers testified on the difficulties of fixed price contracts due to the lack of flexibility. Modifications, for example, could not be made during the current school year. All changes would have to wait until the next school year with a new contract.

In a cost reimbursement contract, all modifications or additions in purchasing can be implemented on a monthly basis.  This gives the school district and the food service providers more flexibility.

The N.J. School Business Administrators (NJASBO) testified that school districts should be able to decide what option works best for their communities. Over 150 resolutions from boards of education have been received to express concerns about a mandatory change to only fixed-price contracts. The process is regulated by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

NJSBA monitored the meeting.

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