In response to allegations that a company knowingly sold defective field turf to several school districts and municipalities across New Jersey, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on Monday to gather more information on the matter.

The committee’s chair, Senator Nellie Pou, invited a representative from the NJSBA to testify. Jonathan Pushman, NJSBA legislative advocate, testified on behalf of the Association and submitted the following statement to the committee:

“Upon reading the news articles published this past December, which allege deceptive practices in the sale of turf fields to schools, the New Jersey School Boards Association was justifiably disturbed. These news accounts should anger anyone concerned about corporate responsibility, student health and safety, and limited financial resources for public education.

“The news articles allege that a company, FieldTurf, sold artificial turf fields to schools across the state with full knowledge that the product was defective. One hundred sixty-four such fields have been installed in New Jersey, even though, since 2006, the company knew the turf was ‘cracking, splitting and breaking apart, long before it should…,’ according to the articles.

“The news reports allege fraud and deception that bilked taxpayers out of millions of dollars.

“Not only is this a financial issue for the affected school districts and their taxpayers, but it could also be a safety issue that affects our students.

“The company contends that the problem with the artificial turf does not affect player safety. However, the reality is that school districts have a responsibility to maintain playing fields in safe condition for their student athletes and physical education programs. That’s why a number of districts ‘have had to replace expensive turf fields far sooner than expected…,’ according to the news articles, and had to do so sooner than they were led to believe by the company.

“So, where do we go from here?

“For affected school boards, legal action is a possibility. At least one legislator called for a class action suit to be filed, and we are aware of two that have been filed to date on behalf of school districts and municipalities. To the best of our knowledge, certification of the class will be resolved sometime over the next few months.

“Other lawmakers are demanding an investigation by the state Attorney General. We agree, and we have expressed public support for state lawmakers’ calls for the Attorney General to look more closely into this matter.

“Shortly after these allegations came to light, the Association announced that it would make itself available to local boards of education and their attorneys and provide them with information and assistance in identifying and coordinating legal action. NJSBA has strongly urged local boards of education affected by this issue to consult with their own board attorneys to discuss how they might proceed. Several of them have done just that.

“At this juncture, the NJSBA cannot offer information about the alleged overreaching sales practices of FieldTurf, as we do not have first-hand knowledge of the allegations in the recent news reports. However, we are encouraged by the scheduling of this hearing and hope that it will set us on a path to rectifying this unfortunate situation, and just as important, that it will help ensure that a similar situation does not occur in the future.”

In addition to NJSBA, the chief executive officer of FieldTurf provided testimony to the committee. At the conclusion of the hearing, Senator Pou indicated that she would likely pursue the passage of a legislative resolution urging the state Attorney General to conduct a formal investigation of the matter.