Legislation that would overhaul school regionalization is primed to move quickly through the New Jersey Legislature...
Legislation that would overhaul school regionalization is primed to move quickly through the New Jersey Legislature. The bill, Senate Bill 3488, provides a road map for school districts to study and implement school regionalization plans and provides financial incentives for such regionalization.
NJ School Regionalization Legislation
The goal of Senate Bill 3488 is to encourage the formation of K-12 regional and countywide school districts, which proponents of the bill suggest may result in improved quality of education and taxpayer savings. Below are several key provisions of the school regionalization bill:
- Feasibility Study Grants: The bill establishes a grant program within the Department of Community Affairs’ Division of Local Government Services, which would provide for the reimbursement of eligible costs associated with conducting feasibility studies that “support the creation of meaningful and implementable plans to form or expand regional school districts.”
- Grant Eligibility: To obtain grants under the legislation, boards of education must meet certain criteria, including that the proposed regionalization does not increase or exacerbate the segregation of students enrolled in the school districts seeking to consolidate or, where applicable, in the school districts from which a school district is seeking to withdraw by “racial, socio-economic, disability, or English Language Learner status.”
- Terms of Employment: Whenever a regional district is formed following the approval of a grant application, the salary guide and terms and conditions of employment, whether established through a collective negotiations agreement or past practice, of the constituent school district with the largest number of teaching staff members will “apply in full after three years following the formation of the regional district” or until a successor agreement is negotiated with the majority representative of the new school district, whichever occurs first.
- Tenure/Seniority: Whenever a limited purpose or all-purpose regional district is formed or enlarged, the tenure and seniority rights of all employees from the affected, constituent, replaced, displaced, or dissolved districts, except for employees who are superintendents without prior underlying tenure and seniority rights, will be recognized and preserved by the newly formed or expanded limited purpose or all-purpose regional district. Additionally, all periods of employment in any of the school districts would count toward acquisition of tenure and seniority in the newly formed or enlarged limited purpose or all-purpose regional district. All statutory and contractual rights to accumulated sick leave, leave of absence, and pension of an employee that have been acquired through employment in any of the districts would also be recognized by the newly formed or enlarged limited purpose or all-purpose regional district. Under the bill, whenever a limited purpose or all-purpose regional district is formed or enlarged, any employee not covered by statutory seniority rights will be placed on a seniority list in accordance with the employee’s years of employment in any of the constituent districts for the purposes of employment.
- Reimbursement of Election Costs: The Department of Education will reimburse participating districts for any costs incurred to hold an election to establish or enlarge a limited purpose or all-purpose regional district provided that “the decision to establish or enlarge a limited purpose or all-purpose regional district stems from the completion of a feasibility study” conducted in connection with the bill’s grant program.
- State Aid: A school district that is a regional school district created following the approval of a grant application will, from the first full school year following the creation of the regional school district through the 2028-2029 school year, receive State school aid in an amount that is the greater of: “the amount of State school aid that the newly created regional school district would receive as a regional school district”; or the sum of the amount of State school aid received by each school district constituting the newly created regional school district prior to the creation of the regional school district. The bill also extends the timeline by which a school district receiving approval or preliminary approval under the grant program would experience State aid reductions pursuant to the proposed bill by a period of four additional years beyond what is provided for under the current State aid reduction timeline.
Senate Bill 3488, which is supported by the New Jersey Education Association, New Jersey School Boards Association, New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, New Jersey Association of School Administrators, New Jersey Association of School Business Officials and the Garden State Coalition of Schools, has a high likelihood of passage. The legislation passed the Senate on March 25, 2021, and is now under consideration in the Assembly. If approved, Senate Bill 3488 would be the first significant overhaul of New Jersey’s school regionalization statute in more than 25 years.
If you have legal concerns related to the proposed school regionalization legislation and how it may impact your school district, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Education Law Group.