On Thursday, June 18, the Assembly Education Committee approved A-1103, which would establish the Office of the Special Education Ombudsman in the state education department. The office would serve as a resource to provide information and support to parents, students, and educators regarding special education rights and services. Under the bill, the commissioner would appoint a Special Education Ombudsman. The ombudsman would serve as a source of information on state and federal law governing special education, provide support to parents of students with disabilities in navigating and understanding the process, provide information and communication strategies to parents and school districts for resolving special education disputes, identify any pattern of complaints that emerge regarding special education rights and services, and recommend strategies for improvement to the education department, in addition to other duties. NJSBA supported the bill, which now heads to the full Assembly for a vote.
The Assembly Education Committee also approved A-4414, which would require the exemption of limited-English-proficient students from the administration of the PARCC, when the students have been in the country for less than 12 months. The bill also would require the NJDOE to notify districts of the availability of certain assessment accommodations for special education and limited-English-proficient students at least six months prior to the administration of the PARCC exams. NJSBA testified concerning the mandatory nature of the bill and recommended that students only be excluded when the school, in consultation with parents, has determined that such an exclusion would be in the best interest of the student, and would be permitted by state and federal law.
Unrecognized Job Titles A-4359/S-2716 would require that a school district’s request for permission to use an unrecognized position title include a list of abolished positions and positions in which there have been layoffs and detailed job descriptions for them. Under current State Board of Education regulations, if a board wants to use an unrecognized position title in the district, the board is required to submit to the executive county superintendent a written request for permission to use the proposed title prior to appointing a candidate. According to the regulation, the request must include a detailed job description for the proposed title. This bill would require that the request also include: a list of all positions abolished in the school district in the prior calendar year, or that will be abolished upon the approval of the unrecognized position title, and a detailed job description for each of these positions. Also required would be a list of all positions in which there have been layoffs in the district in the prior calendar year, or positions in which there will be layoffs upon the approval of the unrecognized position title, and a detailed job description for each of these positions.
In addition, the school district must also include in its request the number of times within the prior three school years that it has submitted a request for permission to use an unrecognized position title. If the detailed job description of the proposed unrecognized position title is substantially similar to the detailed job description of an abolished position or a position that will be abolished upon the approval of the unrecognized position title, or a position in which there has been a layoff or in which there will be a layoff upon the approval of the unrecognized position title, the executive county superintendent may not approve the unrecognized position. In this case the executive county superintendent will be required to forward the request to the commissioner of education, and it will be the commissioner’s responsibility to make the final determination on the request. The NJSBA did not take a public stance on the measure, which was released from the Assembly Education Committee and has already been approved by the full Senate.
Pupil Transportation Contracts A-3921, which would allow a board of education to award pupil transportation contracts that exceed the bid threshold through a request for proposals (RFP), was posted for committee discussion only. Under current law, if the amount of a contract for pupil transportation services will exceed the public bidding threshold, the board of education is required to advertise and publicly bid the contract. This bill provides the board of education with the option of entering into such a contract through an RFP process.
The bill would allow districts to evaluate bids on criteria in addition to cost. The criteria would include such factors as the previous experience of the contractor in transporting pupils; the name of each transportation company of which the contractor has been an owner or manager; a description of any safety programs implemented by the contractor; a record of accidents of the school buses under the control of the contractor; the driving history of the employees of the contractor; the inspection records and model year of the school buses under the control of the contractor; the maintenance schedule of the school buses under the control of the contractor; a financial analysis of the contractor; and compliance with insurance requirements.
Official NJSBA policy states that local boards of education should be granted the authority to disqualify and reject the low bid of any bus company vendor based on previous unsatisfactory performance that did, in fact, cause harm or had the potential to jeopardize the health, safety and well-being of school children or any district employee or representative being transported by a school bus vendor. Therefore, the NJSBA supports the legislation and publicly testified in favor of the measure at Thursday’s hearing.
The Assembly Women’s and Children’s Committee considered A-2888 which would require that the preparation program for an instructional certificate include a minimum of six semester credit hours or equivalent clinical experience in special education, and that the preparation program for an instructional certificate with a teacher of students with disabilities endorsement include credit hours in autism spectrum disorder. NJSBA supports the measure because the NJSBA believes that, prior to certification, all teachers should complete an appropriate educational program on understanding the nature and needs of students eligible for special education and related services. The bill was released from committee and now heads to the full Assembly.