The 2018-2019 legislative session has begun with numerous education-related bills under consideration, including one that would eliminate the superintendent salary cap. On Thursday, Jan. 25, the Senate Education Committee met to consider an ambitious agenda, releasing several measures that would have a significant impact on school district operations and finances.

Superintendent Salary Cap S-692 prohibits the state Department of Education from regulating the maximum salary amount a school district may pay its superintendent of schools. The superintendent salary caps originally went into effect in February 2011 and were later renewed, with some modifications, in the spring of 2017. They are now set to expire in 2024. According to data collected by NJSBA in February 2014, the cap has been a major factor in superintendent turnover and has resulted in a decrease in experience levels of superintendent candidates. When the restriction was proposed and later readopted, the NJSBA expressed opposition, terming it an unnecessary “cap within caps,” as several controls are already in place to ensure accountability and fiscal prudence in administrative spending. These controls include the 2 percent tax-levy cap; statutory limits on the annual growth of school district administrative expenditures; and oversight and review of school administrator contracts and compensation by the NJDOE. The NJSBA also opposes the superintendent salary cap due to the negative impact it has on the quality, stability and continuity of public education across the state.

In recent legislative sessions, the NJSBA has strongly supported legislative initiatives that would repeal the cap, and reiterated that support in testimony submitted to the committee. The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration before it can be posted for a floor vote.

Employment History S-414 seeks to end the practice of allowing school employees with a history of instances or allegations of sexual misconduct or child abuse to move from one job to another without their new employers having any knowledge of such history. The legislation requires school districts, charter schools, nonpublic schools, and contracted service providers (“employers”) to review the employment history of prospective employees to ascertain allegations of child abuse or sexual misconduct. It explicitly prohibits such employers from hiring a person serving in a position which involves regular contact with students unless the employer conducts a review of the employment history of the applicant by contacting former and current employers and requesting information regarding child abuse and sexual misconduct allegations.

When seeking employment in a school setting, applicants will be required to answer three questions regarding whether the applicant has ever:

  1. Been the subject of any child abuse or sexual misconduct investigation by the employer, law enforcement, or any state agency (unless the allegations were false or the incident was not substantiated);
  2. Been disciplined, discharged, non-renewed, asked to resign, etc. while allegations were pending/under investigation, or due to an adjudication/finding; or
  3. Had a license/certification suspended while allegations pending/under investigation, or due an adjudication/finding.

A prospective employer would then be required to contact all of the applicant’s previous employers in order to ascertain whether the applicant’s answers to the questions above are accurate. If an applicant or previous employer provides an affirmative response to any of the questions, then the prospective employer would need to follow up with the previous employer and obtain additional information before making a hiring decision.

The bill also would prohibit confidential separation agreements between school districts and employees that would have the effect of suppressing any information related to investigations or findings of sexual misconduct or child abuse by an employee.

The NJSBA publicly supported the legislation as it seeks to protect the health and well-being of New Jersey’s school age children. The NJSBA did offer several amendments to the legislation, most of which were accepted by the sponsors, that would enable school districts to implement the new requirements in an efficient and effective manner. The NJSBA will continue working with the sponsors and affected stakeholders on improvements to the bill as it progresses through the legislative process.

Physical Exams for 8th Graders S-631 requires all students enrolled in grade eight to have a physical examination that includes a cardiac component. Current law and regulations require that students enrolled in grades six through 12 must have a physical examination using the “Preparticipation Physical Evaluation” form prior to participating on a school-sponsored interscholastic or intramural athletic team. The law specifies that the physician, advanced practice nurse, or physician assistant who conducts the physical must have completed a Student-Athlete Cardiac Screening professional development module. This bill requires that every student enrolled in grade eight in a public or nonpublic school undergo a physical examination using the “Preparticipation Physical Evaluation” form. The individual who performs the physical examination will sign the form’s certification statement attesting to the completion of the professional development module developed pursuant to current law. The school will retain the original signed statement to attest to the qualifications of the health care practitioner to perform the physical examination.

The NJSBA supports the bill, which may be posted for a Senate floor vote.

“Early Childhood Innovation Act” S-696 establishes a five-year early childhood innovation loan pilot program, administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, for the purpose of encouraging private investment in expanded early childhood services, to improve short-term and long-term outcomes for young children, and reduce long-term costs. The early childhood programs and services would include, but not be limited to, preschool education, and child nutrition, health, early intervention, home visitation, and other services. The bill also establishes a 15-member “New Jersey Early Childhood Innovation Study Commission,” to include a representative of the NJSBA, to assist the EDA in administering the pilot program and issue annual reports detailing progress of the pilot program.

The NJSBA is monitoring the legislation, which now goes to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration of its fiscal impact.

New “Department of Early Childhood” S-698 would establish a Department of Early Childhood as a new principal department within the executive branch of state government. The bill transfers the functions of the current Division of Early Childhood Education in the Department of Education to the Department of Early Childhood. In addition, the bill transfers to the new department:

  • All responsibilities of the Department of Education relating to students in grades preschool through three;
  • All responsibilities of the Department of Human Services relating to children from pregnancy to age eight;
  • All responsibilities of the Department of Children and Families relating to children from pregnancy to age eight;
  • All responsibilities of the Department of Health relating to children from pregnancy to age eight; and
  • All the functions of the Department of Children and Families regarding the licensing of child care centers and the registration of family child care providers to the new Department of Early Childhood.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for additional deliberations. The NJSBA will continue to monitor the legislation.

Daily Recess Period S-847 requires that a public school district must provide a daily recess period of at least 20 minutes for students in grades kindergarten through five. The recess period is to be held outdoors, if feasible. Under the bill, a student may not be denied recess for any reason, other than as a consequence of a violation of the district’s code of student conduct, including a harassment, intimidation, or bullying (HIB) investigation. A school district, whenever possible, must avoid denying a student recess more than twice per week. The bill’s provisions would not prohibit school staff from denying recess based on medical advice or a student’s 504 plan. Also, a school district would not be required to provide a recess period on a substantially shortened school day. The bill provides that recess will not be permitted to be used to meet the current statutory requirements regarding the provision of health, safety, and physical education courses in public schools.

NJSBA supports the legislation.

Full-Day Kindergarten S-1055 requires all school districts to provide full-day kindergarten programs for their students. If a school district does not currently provide a full-day kindergarten program, and is classified in district factor groups A, B, CD, or DE, then the district would be required to begin offering such a program by the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. All other school districts would be required to provide such a program by the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. The bill also establishes a uniform age requirement for a student to enroll in kindergarten. Under current law, each school district determines the date by which a child must attain the age of five years in order to enroll in kindergarten. Under the bill, a child would have to be five years old by Oct. 1 of the school year in order to enroll in kindergarten.

In testimony before the committee, the NJSBA expressed concerns with the fiscal impact of S-1055. While the NJSBA supports the expansion of full-day kindergarten throughout the state, the Association believes that full-day kindergarten should not be mandated by the state unless state funds are provided to meet the need for necessary additional facilities and staff. At this point, the legislation does not provide such support and would constitute an unfunded mandate if enacted in its current form.