(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Patrick Diegnan, Nancy Pinkin (both D-Middlesex) and Shavonda Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic) that would give retired athletic coaches the opportunity to continue to work in a school district supporting student athletics under compensation restrictions while not negatively impacting the pension fund system was signed into law on Thursday.
The legislation (A-3346) was prompted by a Metuchen resident, Ken Graf, a teacher and boys’ soccer coach in the Metuchen Public School District for 42 years. Graf hoped to coach the soccer team at Metuchen High this fall; however, under the present rules, he would not be able to continue to coach until after 180 days has passed within a school year or he would lose his pension. This rule would force Graf to miss the Bulldogs 40th soccer season.
The sponsors note the new law will help New Jersey Schools to retain talented and devoted coaches for student athletic programs without perpetuating abuse of the pension fund system. The previous rule allowed a coach seeking to retire and begin coaching a spring sport the opportunity to do so while fall sport coaches would have to wait nearly a year, an unintended consequence of the original legislation.
“A coach with years of experience and dedication as an athletic instructor and teacher is invaluable resource,” Diegnan said. “In Mr. Graf, we have a coach who is willing to return or continue to work in this field. He should be welcomed back. He’s not the only coach out there in this predicament. This is an opportunity to keep outstanding coaches involved in school sports and allow our children to continue to benefit from their expertise.”
State law will, now, allow a retired member of the Teachers, Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF) to become employed again with the former employer in a position as coach of an athletic activity if the employment begins after the retirement allowance becomes due and payable; the retired member had attained service retirement age as of the date of retirement, which for most current members of the TPAF is age 60; and the compensations for the employment is less than $10,000 per year.
“Metuchen High School was very fortunate to have a devoted educator like Mr. Graf in their district,” Pinkin said. “Before retirement, he showed his commitment to teaching, as well as provided a healthy environment for his students on the soccer field. It is my hope that this bill will allow teachers who have retired, to continue to working with student athletes, like Mr. Graf.”
“There’s nothing more important to maintaining the quality of education than the ability to attain and retain the best of the best educators,” Sumter added. “Now, career student athletic coaches will be able to continue to share their valuable knowledge and experience longer. This law helps many former educators and coaches who have made the greatest impact in our schools continue to dedicate themselves, after retirement, to education.”
Prior to the new law, regulations of the TPAF require a “bona fide” severance from employment before a retiree can return to any employment with the former employer. A “bona fide” severance from employment means a complete termination of the employee’s employment relationship with the employer for a period of at least 180 days. These regulations were promulgated to maintain the qualified status of the retirement system under federal law.
The new statute modifies the conditions for a TPAF retiree returning to work as a coach of an athletics activity in a school district, and recognizes that it would be available only if that qualified status can be maintained.
The law will take effect immediately.
The Assembly passed the legislation 71-7-0 and the Senate 39-0 in June.