The Assembly Education Committee, for the first time headed up by its new Committee Chairwoman Marlene Caride, moved a number of pieces of legislation, including a resolution urging the Christie Administration to end current regulation capping superintendent salaries, legislation establishing a new class 3 special law enforcement officer that can serve in schools, as well as legislation calling for changes to current standards and curriculum as it relates to financial literacy and computer science. The Committee also approved legislation modifying current training rules associated with suicide prevention and significantly negotiated legislation related to temperature control in schools. NJPSA was on hand to provide input on the bills throughout the omnibus session – likely the last before the Legislature takes a hiatus for the summer.
Superintendent Salary Cap
The committee approved a resolution, ACR-56 (Jasey / Wolfe), which urges the Commissioner of Education to suspend regulations on school district superintendent maximum salary amount for certain contract terms, and not to readopt at sunset. NJPSA, as well as her fellow stakeholders NJASA and NJSBA, testified in support of the resolution, which urges the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to suspend the current so called ‘sup cap’ regulations and not renew them upon sunset.
NJPSA’s testimony focused on the impact that the superintendent salary cap has had on continuity within the district as well as on the career ladder.
Also approved was legislation, A-1030 (Jasey / Wolfe / McKnight), which would require boards of education to adopt a policy establishing temperature control standards and guidelines for school district facilities. The legislation is a hard fought compromise between the various education stakeholders, including NJEA, NJSBA, NJASA and NJPSA. This legislation requires districts to adopt a policy to address temperature control issues. Tying the legislative standard to existing Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health (PEOSHA) standards that apply to adults. The amended bill also makes clear that districts must act within what is ‘feasible’ based on individual district circumstances. It also empowers the Departments of Health and Education to develop guidance to assist directs in development and implementation of a new policy. NJPSA supports the legislation.
The committee additional reviewed and approved legislation, A-313 (Singleton / Lampitt / Quijano), which requires certain additional school district personnel to complete training program on suicide prevention. The bill was extensively amended last legislative session after robust discussion between the education stakeholders, including NJPSA, NJSBA and NJEA, with suicide prevention advocates. The original bill would have required an expansion of existing training requirements for teaching staff members.
NJPSA supports the amended bill which requires employees of a contracted service provider, if they have regular and direct contact with students as determined by the board of education, to complete a one-time training program in suicide prevention, awareness, and response developed or identified by the Department of Education. The bill also directs the Department of Education, in consultation with the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Human Services, the New Jersey Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Council, suicide prevention experts, and interested stakeholders in the education community to:
1) develop or identify training programs on suicide prevention, awareness, and response that persons subject to the bill’s training requirements may access and complete free of charge; and
2) develop an educational fact sheet on suicide prevention, awareness, and response.
The educational fact sheet will be made available on the department’s website and distributed at no charge to all school districts. Under the bill’s provisions, each school district and contracted service provider must annually provide to its employees the educational fact sheet and guidelines on the school district’s reporting and suicide prevention, awareness, and response protocols, including contact information for each school’s designated staff who should be notified whenever an employee believes a student may be at risk for suicide.
Proposed Curricular Changes
The Committee also approved several curricular/standards changes, with the caveat that the sponsors work with stakeholders, including NJPSA, to resolved issues with the legislation. These bills include:
- A-2292 (Vainieri Huttle) which requires a review of Core Curriculum Content Standards to ensure guidance for substance abuse instruction provided to public school students incorporates most recent evidence-based standards and practices. NJPSA supports this measure as it is consistent with existing practice.
- A-3396 (McKnight / Chiaravalloti) requires financial literacy instruction to pupils enrolled in grades kindergarten through eight. NJPSA explained to both the sponsors and the committee that the existing financial literacy standards include direct training in as early as the 4th grade and that several additional items included under the bill are taught as part of mathematics instruction. NJPSA advocated that any changes in this area should be infused into the existing curricular rather than a new requirement be developed. This is akin to the approach the Legislature took last year in L.2015, c.229 which relates to computer literacy. NJPSA is actively engaged with the bill sponsors and looks forward to working with them (NJPSA Testimony)
- A-2873 (Jones) requires completion of a computer science class as part of the high school graduation requirements. NJPSA voiced concern with the legislation as proposed, particularly in light of the recent adoption of P.L.2015, c.229 which sought to incorporate computer science concepts into the existing curricular standards last year. While the bill was amended to merely require course work by the 2018 school year, it still would compel all students to take and pass a computer science programming class as part of the current graduation requirements. NJPSA voiced deep concern with this requirement both in terms of staffing, but also, in terms of its impact on students ability to successfully complete all graduation requirements. NJPSA looks forward to working with the sponsor to address lingering concerns in the coming months (NJPSA testimony).
Special School Law Enforcement
Additionally approved was legislation, A-3629 / S-86 (Bucco / Diegnan / Rible / Bucco / Sweeney), which establishes a new class of ‘special law enforcement officers’ to provide security in public and non-public schools and county colleges. The legislation stems from recommendations by the New Jersey School Security Taskforce which issued a final report in July of 2015. NJPSA, in addition to NJSBA, expressed some dismay that the bill was amended to eliminate the requirement that Class 3 officers receive School Resource Officer (SRO) training that was to provided by the Police Training Commission (PTC). Conceptually the legislation helps ensure that school security personnel are better trained, since the bill permits retired law enforcement officers to serve as these new Class 3 officers, without jeopardizing their pension. However, not requiring that such personnel have exposure and training to the special rules that occur in a school setting, NJPSA would argue, is problematic. NJPSA will continue to work to ensure that the legislation is amended to once again include this requirement, or in the alternative, work with NJSBA to, at a minimum, make this the SRO training, a recommended ‘best practice.
Limiting Expulsion & Suspension In Early Grades
Also approved was legislation, A-3790 (Vainieri Huttle), which would limit expulsions and suspensions for students in preschool through grade 2 with certain exceptions; requires early detection and prevention programs for behavioral issues in preschool through grade 2. The legislation is identical to a Senate bill, S-2081 (Ruiz), that was approved by the Senate Education Committee last month. The bill is consistent with existing New Jersey practice. As such, the Association supports the measure.
Varsity Letter Policy
In addition, the committee approved legislation, A-3879 (Singleton / Ciattarelli), which would require school districts to adopt policy allowing students in grades 9 through 12 who participate in certain interscholastic extracurricular activities to earn varsity letter. As amended, the legislation requires a school district that includes any of the grades 9 through 12 to adopt a policy to provide that a student enrolled in those grades who participates in any school-sponsored, interscholastic extracurricular activity that includes competitions in which the student competes against students enrolled in schools outside of the district may be eligible to earn a varsity letter awarded by the district. NJPSA supports the legislation as amended.
Other Bills Approved
In addition to the above legislation, the Committee also approved:
- A-1882 (Wimberly / Spencer / Sumter) which prohibits certain school districts under State intervention from leasing building if purchase price would be less than total costs of lease. NJPSA is monitoring this legislation.
- AR-126 (Eustace / Giblin) which urges the President to establish Presidential Youth Council. NJPSA supports this legislation.