legupdateOn Monday, Mar. 16 the state Senate gave final legislative approval to a bill that would create a unique funding mechanism to facilitate the construction of county vocational school facilities.

A-3970/S-2659 would amend the “Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act” (EFCFA) and authorize a county improvement authority to finance the construction of a new facility for a county vocational school district. A county vocational school district would request that the county improvement authority issue bonds to finance either the local share of a project that will receive an upfront grant for the state share of the project under EFCFA, or the total cost of a project that is eligible to receive state debt service aid under that same law. School facilities would be constructed pursuant to a design-build contract following procedures established by the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. The measure, which the NJSBA supports, now heads to the governor’s desk for consideration. The General Assembly approved the bill in February.

The Senate also voted on several other bills of interest to the education community.

Vaccination Exemptions The Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee approved A-1931 which clarifies exemptions from mandatory immunizations for students. The bill stipulates that state laws or regulations that require the immunization of students at an elementary or secondary school or an institution of higher education can provide exemptions from mandatory immunization only if the following is submitted: 1) A written statement from a licensed physician indicating that the vaccine should not be given for a specific period of time based upon valid medical reasons as determined by the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services; or 2) A written statement by the student, or the student’s parent or guardian, explaining how the administration of the vaccine conflicts with their bona fide religious tenets or practices.

Under the bill, a philosophical or moral objection to vaccination would not be sufficient for an exemption on religious grounds, and an exemption on religious grounds may be suspended by the state during an emergency as determined by the health commissioner. The bill, which NJSBA supports, was approved by the committee and now heads to the full Assembly for approval. The Senate companion bill, S-2813, has not yet been scheduled for a committee vote.

Federal Impact Aid Another bill heading to the governor’s desk is S-2439, which authorizes a school district that receives federal impact aid to establish a federal impact aid reserve account. Federal impact aid is awarded to school districts in which federal ownership of property reduces the ability to levy property taxes for educational purposes, or when certain federal activities increase a community’s population, resulting in an increase in the number of school-aged children. School districts in which military bases or federal public housing are located are likely to receive federal impact aid. The bill, which NJSBA supports, passed the Senate unanimously. The bill received unanimous approval by the General Assembly in September 2014.

Food Services CommitteesA-3360 also received final legislative approval by the Senate and is now headed to the governor for consideration. The bill, which NJSBA supports, would require superintendents in public school districts containing a middle or high school to establish a district-wide food services advisory committee to recommend breakfast and lunch menu options that reflect the student body’s cultural, traditional and overall dietary preferences if the student population suggests such a need exists. The General Assembly approved the bill in December 2014.

Reporting on District ContractsA-1499 requires the school business administrator to report to the local board of education on district contracts each year. The bill passed the Senate with unanimous approval and awaits the governor’s consideration. It was approved by the General Assembly in December 2014.

District Job Titles The Senate also unanimously advanced S-2716. That measure would require any school district requesting permission to use an unrecognized position title to include a list of recently abolished positions, as well as positions in which there have been layoffs along with detailed job descriptions for all such positions. No Assembly counterpart to S-2716 has been introduced to date.

April Voting HoursS-2453 also received unanimous approval by the Senate. The measure requires earlier mandatory polling hours for April school elections and requires discretionary additional polling hours be consistent with current primary and general elections. NJSBA opposes the bill because it believes that, during April school board elections, the polls should remain open, at a minimum, between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., and during any additional time that the school board may designate between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. NJSBA also believes polls should remain open as long as necessary to permit those in line at the time of poll closing to cast their ballots. Any limitations on these hours would unnecessarily suppress voter turnout in an election where the voters are determining not only whom they wish to have represent them on their local school board, but are also determining the local budget for their schools. Local property taxpayers deserve the maximum opportunity to be heard in these elections that directly impacts each community’s support for its local schools. A-3805, the bill’s Assembly companion, has not yet been scheduled for a committee vote.