(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Bonnie Watson Coleman, Mila Jasey and Thomas Giblin that would require any plan to close a school that is under state control first be approved by the school district’s board of education was approved Monday by an Assembly panel.
The bill was prompted by a proposal in the Newark Public Schools to reorganize the district, including closing some schools. Newark is currently under state control and the district superintendent is state-appointed and state-approved. The proposal has met opposition from some residents and school officials who argue that the reorganization will have a negative impact on children and communities.
“Closing a school, no matter how-well intentioned the decision might be, is disruptive. The fact that such a decision can be made without the consultation of the school board charged with overseeing the school is disconcerting,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “This bill helps ensure the decision to close a school is well vetted and carried out with the best interest of students in mind.”
“The decision to shutter a school is an extremely drastic one and should be made only following careful consideration of the impact upon students, their families and the community,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “The last thing we want to do is create a situation that is counterproductive to students and problematic for their parents.”
“Closing a school that has long been part of a community is not just emotionally tolling, but problematic if the potential drawbacks outweigh the merits,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). “It is vital that we do our due diligence and ensure a smooth transition that will not hurt our students.”
The bill (A-2216) provides that a school district board of education or state district superintendent must obtain approval from the Commissioner of Education prior to implementing a school closure. An application for approval of a school closure must include assurances that the proposed closure is consistent with the district’s approved long range facilities plan, will not lead to an increased use of temporary facilities, will not contribute to unlawful segregation of student populations and will not cause unreasonably burdensome transportation requirements for students. These assurances are similar to those currently required under State board of Education regulations.
The bill also requires a state district superintendent to get the approval of the school district board of education prior to submitting a school closure plan to the commissioner. The bill’s provisions would be applicable to any school closure plan submitted for approval on or after January 1, 2014.
The bill was released by the Assembly Education Committee.