Before recessing for the summer, the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly held their last scheduled voting sessions in the final week of June. A handful of education-related measures received final legislative approval and joined several others already on the governor’s desk. The governor will now decide whether to sign them into law as is, or return them to the Legislature using his conditional or absolute veto authority. One proposal concerning the merger of non-operating school districts has already been approved.

School District Food Donations A-3056/S-2360 would require the state Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to establish voluntary guidelines for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste. The guidelines would include: (1) information on food waste generally and the benefits of reducing, recovering, and recycling food waste; (2) recommendations for how schools can incorporate this information into their curricula and create programs and activities for the reduction, recovery, and recycling of food waste; (3) recommendations for how schools can reduce the volume of surplus food they generate; (4) guidance on how schools can create “share tables” in their cafeterias; (5) information on cost-effective, safe, and sanitary means by which schools may donate excess, unused, and edible food to nonprofit organizations that distribute food to needy individuals; and (6) information on how schools can recycle their food waste. The NJDEP, the state Department of Education, and the state Office of the Secretary of Higher Education would be required to post the guidelines on their websites. The bill would also amend the “Food Bank Good Samaritan Act” to extend legal immunity to public and nonpublic schools that donate food that appears to be fit for human consumption at the time it is donated to a nonprofit organization. NJSBA supports the bill as it encourages, rather than mandates, school districts to follow the food waste guidelines.

College Readiness Commission A-4088/S-2567 establishes a “High School to College Readiness Commission.” Under the bill, the commission will consist of 18 members including: the commissioner of education, the secretary of higher education, the executive director of the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, and 11 members from various associations representing the K-12 and higher education communities. NJSBA will have a representative on the commission. The commission will study and develop recommendations on “issues related to enhancing student preparation for postsecondary education and raising the awareness of students and parents on the admission requirements and other issues associated with postsecondary education.” NJSBA supports the bill.

Students on Naval Property A-4453/S-2881 requires pupils who reside on the Naval Weapons Station Earle to enroll in the resident school district in accordance with an enrollment schedule determined by the executive county superintendent. The schedule would provide for the transition, over a period of four school years, of all pupils enrolled in the designated district to enrollment in the schools of the district in which the pupils reside, so that by July 1, 2020 all pupils are enrolled in the schools of the district in which they reside. The bill allows a pupil an option to continue in the school of the designated district he is attending on the bill’s effective date until graduation from that school.

A 1988 law authorized the executive county superintendent of schools in Monmouth County to designate a school district as the district of residence for the students who reside on federal property at the Naval Weapons Station Earle. The property on which Earle is located is within the geographic boundaries of two separate school districts. Pursuant to that law, the Tinton Falls School District has provided educational services to children who reside on Earle since the 1988-1989 school year.

Guidance on Transgender Students S-3067/A-4652 requires the state commissioner of education to develop guidelines for school districts regarding transgender students. The guidelines are intended to provide direction for schools in addressing common issues concerning the needs of transgender students, and to assist schools in establishing policies and procedures that ensure a supportive and nondiscriminatory environment for transgender students. The guidelines will also include information on organizations or other resources available to students and parents that provide support to transgender individuals.

In addition, the bill requires the commissioner to provide school districts with guidance and resources regarding: (1) providing professional development opportunities to school staff regarding issues and concerns relevant to LGBTQ students; and (2) making developmentally-appropriate information about LGBTQ issues available in school facilities. NJSBA supports the bill.

The following bills were sent to the governor in recent weeks, but he has yet to act upon them:

Farm to School Coordinating Council A-3058/S-2366 would establish the “Farm to School Coordinating Council.” NJSBA supports the bill. Read more.

School Safety Specialists A-3347/S-2242 establishes the “New Jersey School Safety Specialist Academy” within the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). The NJSBA supports the legislation, which would codify one of the recommendations of the New Jersey School Security Task Force, which released its final report in July 2015. Earlier in the legislative process, the NJSBA successfully obtained amendments to the bill clarifying that the certification program and any related training and professional development will be provided free of charge to designated school safety specialists. Read more here.

Educating Student-Athletes on Opioid Abuse A-3944/S-2402 requires the N.J. commissioner of education to develop an educational fact sheet that provides information concerning the use and misuse of opioid drugs in the event that a student-athlete or cheerleader is prescribed an opioid for a sports-related injury. NJSBA supports the bill. Read more.

ELL Students in G&T Programs A-4175/S-2808 directs the N.J. commissioner of education to develop guidance for school districts regarding the identification of English Language Learners for gifted and talented programs. NJSBA supports the bill. Read more here.

BOE Nominees to Affirm Clean Criminal History A-4206/S-2676 would require a school board candidate to file with his or her nominating petition a specific affirmation that he or she has not been convicted of any of the crimes that disqualify an individual from membership on a board of education or a charter school board of trustees. NJSBA supports the legislation. Read more.

School Security Surveillance S-742/A-1205 requires that if a school building is equipped with video surveillance equipment that is capable of wirelessly streaming live video to a remote location, the board of education must enter into an agreement granting local law enforcement the ability to activate the equipment and view the live video stream. The impact of the legislation is limited to a small number of districts statewide. NJSBA supports the bill. Read more.

Joint Bracketing in School Elections S-1297/A-3751 would permit two or more candidates for the office of member of a board of education who seek election at the annual school election held in either April or November of each year to circulate a nominating petition jointly and to be bracketed together for the same term. The bill also permits the inclusion of a short, non-political designation on the petition and the ballot of the principles that the candidate or candidates represent. Read more.

Special Education Legal Decisions S-1451/A-3856 requires the N.J. Department of Education to make available on its website an electronic database of legal decisions concerning special education in New Jersey. NJSBA supports the legislation. Read more.

Head Injury Safety Programs S-2348/A-3799 broadens existing law to provide that students participating in intramural sports programs will be included in the student-athlete head injury safety program, and that the coaches of intramural sports programs must complete a safety training program. NJSBA supports the bill. Read more.

Nourishing Young Minds Initiative S-2819/A-4363 would establish a fund in the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) to be known as the “Nourishing Young Minds Initiative Fund.” Money in the fund would be used by the NJDA, in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Education, to help pay for child food and nutrition programs. NJSBA supports the legislation. Read more.

Sending District Voting Rights S-3191/A-3370 broadens the voting rights of representatives of sending school districts who are eligible for membership on a receiving district board of education. The NJSBA supports the legislation, which is based on official Association policy adopted at the May 2014 Delegate Assembly. Read more.

Gov Signs Bill to Help Non-Operating Districts Merge

On Friday, Gov. Christie signed into law a measure that allows for the elimination of school districts that became non-operating districts after the passage of a 2009 law that established procedures for the elimination of any non-operating districts already in existence at that time. The governor’s approval of the measure comes after he returned the bill to the Legislature with recommended changes via his conditional veto authority.

A-4352/S-2843 provides for the elimination of non-operating school districts that were established after the effective date of P.L.2009, c.78. Under that law, the executive county superintendents of schools were required to develop plans for eliminating the non-operating school districts. To date, 14 such school districts have been eliminated. However, the law only applied to non-operating districts in existence prior to the date the law went into effect – June 30, 2009. Since then, additional districts have subsequently become non-operating school districts. This new law will explicitly permit their elimination and subject them to the parameters of the 2009 law.

As enacted, A-4352/S-2843 (P.L.2017, c.102) also increases the term under which a Type II school district may rent buildings for school purposes without voter approval. The new law authorizes the renting of a school building for a maximum of 10 years. Under prior law, a district could, in the case of emergency, enter an agreement to rent a building for a term of five years.

As originally approved by the Legislature, the bill also established procedures for eliminating a deficit that existed prior to the merger of a non-operating district with an operating district. The bill specified that if, at the time of a required merger, a school district has a deficit in its general fund, then the N.J. commissioner of education would require that the district that incurred the deficit raise a supplemental general fund tax levy to eliminate the deficit. Any such supplemental tax levy would be in addition to any increase that is authorized under the statutory 2 percent property tax levy cap, and the commissioner would determine if the supplemental levy would only affect the current year or if it would be a permanent increase. Gov. Christie balked at this provision as it would have created a “loophole” to the 2 percent property tax levy cap. In his veto statement, Christie wrote, “I have repeatedly vetoed attempts to create loopholes to the 2 percent tax levy cap. Any measure that creates an exception to the 2 percent cap undermines the cap, despite how well intentioned the exception may be.”

The governor also pointed out that his 2017-2018 budget proposal provides relief for non-operating districts that merge with another district, without creating an exception to the 2 percent cap. The governor’s proposal was incorporated into the state FY2018 Appropriations Act, which contains the following language provision:

“Notwithstanding the provisions of P.L.2006, c.15 (C.18A:7A-54 et seq.) or any law or regulation to the contrary, in the event that a school district owes an amount greater than 50 percent of its annual general fund budget attributable in substantial part to loans made to the district from the “School District Deficit Relief Account” established pursuant to P.L.2006, c.15 (C.18A:7A-54 et seq.), such debt, as reduced by the liquidation of all available assets of the school district, may be forgiven upon the school district’s merger with another district if the Commissioner of Education determines that such debt represents an impediment to consolidation, subject to the approval of the Director of the Division of Budget and Accounting.”

A-4352/S-2843, which the NJSBA supported, went into effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.