The Senate Education Committee, in addition to approving legislation, S-1987 (Ruiz), that would prohibit the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) from regulating the maximum salary amount a school district may pay its superintendent of schools, also approved several pieces of legislation related to students and schools. NJPSA weighed in on each of the measures during the robust morning hearing June 9.
The Senate Education Committee approved legislation, S-1987 (Ruiz), June 9 that would prohibit the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) from regulating the maximum salary amount a school district may pay its superintendent of schools. The legislation passed after an hour of testimony and was approved along party lines (3-2). The legislation is in response to regulation that became effective back in late 2010 that limited the annual salary of superintendents to not more than $175,000 for most chief school administrators- the Governor’s own salary.
The bill has strong support from Democratic leaders, with Senate President Stephen Sweeney calling the pay limits a “big mistake” and the influential chair of the education committee saying it is time to fix the regulations.
“It is time to roll up our sleeves to deal with the unintended circumstances of the cap,” said state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the committee’s chairwoman and a prime sponsor of the new bill said during the June 9 hearing.
But, Republican members of the committee didn’t agree. State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren) quizzed two superintendents who testified for the bill about their own pay, as well as any health benefits and bonuses, and what their pension benefits would be.
Stakeholder Weigh In
Overwhelmingly the stakeholder groups, including NJPSA, NJASA and NJSBA, argued in support of the legislation / elimination of the cap – showcasing the struggle to deal with the turnover of superintendents that has ensued with implementation of the caps. The chief worry is that many veteran school chiefs have retired early due to the caps, or left for better paying jobs in New York and Pennsylvania. Board members and others have maintained that separate caps on tax levies and administrative spending have helped keep contracts under control with the strict caps.
Also approved were several other measures as outlined below:
- S-125 (Bucco / Oroho) – Requires school districts to allow charter school students, county vocational school students, and students receiving equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school to participate in interscholastic sports programs on resident district's sports teams. The bill also provides that interscholastic sports programs offered by charter schools and county vocational school districts must be available to students attending other public schools. Under the bill, a student who receives equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school who wishes to try out for, and participate in, school-sponsored interscholastic athletics in his resident district must: 1) provide proof that he resides in the district; 2) meet the sports participation requirements established by the school district for students enrolled in the district such as physical examinations, insurance, age, academic, and other requirements. The student must comply with the same standards of behavior, responsibilities, and performance as other members of the team; and 3) demonstrate to the board of education that he is receiving an academically equivalent education compared to students enrolled in the school district and that he is academically qualified to participate. Any controversy in regard to whether a home-schooled student, a charter school student, a county vocational school student, or other public school student meets the eligibility requirements for student athletes established by the NJSIAA would be adjudicated by the association in compliance with its constitution and by-laws. Under amendments NJPSA successfully advocated for the Department of Education is tasked with developing criteria for determining “academic equivalency.” The committee also incorporated reciprocity for students attending a traditional school to participate in county vocational or charter schools in their community.
- S-1897 / A-679 / A-2186 (Turner / Beach / Cryan / Benson / Singleton / Singleton / Lampitt / Riley) – Encourages the establishment of "breakfast after the bell" programs in school districts, public school, and nonpublic schools participating in the federal school breakfast program. Under the provisions of the bill, the Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Department of Education, would: make every effort to assist, guide, and support school districts, public schools, or nonpublic schools in planning, establishing, implementing, or modifying the “breakfast after the bell” program to increase the participation rate of all students in the school breakfast program, especially students from low-income families; and prepare and issue an annual report to the Governor and the Legislature on the number and percentage of students from low-income families participating in the school breakfast program and the format used for providing breakfast, for each school district, public school, or nonpublic school. NJPSA is part of the Food for Thought Campaign which advocates for increased breakfast participation and is in support of this legislation.
- S-2032 (Codey) – Requires public school students in grades 6 through 12 to take courses in computer science. Specifically, the legislation requires the State Board of Education, within 180 days of the effective date of bill, to develop rigorous curriculum guidelines in computer science at the middle and high school levels. Under the provisions of the bill, beginning in the 2015-2016 school year, a student in grades 6 through 12 would be required to complete a continuum of courses in the field of computer science, which will be aligned with the curriculum guidelines established by the State board. The bill defines “computer science” to mean the study of computers and algorithmic processes and includes the study of computing principles, computer hardware and software design, computer applications, and the impact of computers on society. NJPSA is seeking amendments to incorporate these guidelines within the technology and science standards, as appropriate.
- S-2079 (Sweeney) – Provides that school districts must ensure that students with disabilities have opportunities to participate in athletic activities equal to those of other students. As amended, the bill requires each school district to: 1) ensure that a student with a disability has an equal opportunity to participate in physical education programs, participate in existing classroom activities that involve physical activity, and try out for and, if selected, participate in athletic programs in an integrated manner to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student; and 2) ensure the provision of reasonable modifications or aids or services necessary to provide a student with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in physical education programs, classroom activities that involve physical activity, and athletic programs in an integrated manner to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student. The bill provides for certain exceptions to the inclusion of a student with a disability in physical education programs and athletic activities, if the inclusion: presents an objective health or safety risk to the student or to others, based on an individualized assessment of the student; or fundamentally alters the nature of the physical education program or athletic program. The bill stipulates, however, that in the event of one of these exceptions, the school district, in consultation with students, parents, community members, and advocacy groups, must make a reasonable effort to provide a student with a disability the opportunity to participate in existing adapted or unified sports programs facilitated by community organizations, such as the Special Olympics New Jersey. A school district may develop these programs on a school, district, regional, or county basis. Under the provisions of the bill, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, in consultation with Special Olympics New Jersey and other adapted sports organizations, may establish interscholastic athletic programs for students participating in unified sports programs developed by the school districts. Additionally, the association may require a coach of a unified sports program of athletics to receive training specific to that program. NJPSA successfully sought amendment to make the legislation effective as of the 2015-2016 school year.
- S-2091 / A-373 (Rice / Ruiz / Caputo / Diegnan / Spencer) – Requires school buildings to be equipped with emergency light and panic alarm linked to local law enforcement. Specifically, the bill requires that all public elementary and secondary schools be equipped with a panic alarm for use in a school security emergency including, but not limited to, a non-fire evacuation, lockdown, or active shooter situation. The panic alarm would be directly linked to law enforcement authorities. The legislation also requires that all public elementary and secondary schools be equipped with a red emergency light that is affixed to the exterior of the school building in a highly visible location above or near the front entrance visible from the nearest public roadway or, if the school building is not visible from the nearest public roadway, then on that roadway. The bill requires that the emergency light be linked to the school’s panic alarm so that it turns on when the panic alarm is activated. The bill directs that the proceeds of bonds authorized to be issued to fund the State share of the costs of Schools Development Authority district school facilities projects or the State share of the costs of school facilities projects in all other districts, including county vocational school districts, be used to fund the full cost of the panic alarms and emergency lights. NJPSA successfully sought amendment last year to allow school districts in communities without a local police force to connect to the State Police. We also successfully sought funding for upgrades.
Also approved were two additional measures that NJPSA supports:
- S-1857 (Codey) – Establishes measures to deter steroid use among students. NJPSA supports this legislation. NJPSA supports this legislation.
- S-1903 / A-2641 (Barnes, III / Space / Andrzejczak / Dancer) – Provides for voluntary contributions by taxpayers on gross income tax returns to support farm to school and school gardens programs.