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Sen. Ruiz and Sen. Pres Sweeney

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senate President Steve Sweeney to prohibit the payment of bonuses to superintendents for keeping children within a school district’s special education programs, rather than sending students out-of-district, was approved today by the Senate Education Committee.

“This bill will close a loophole in state law that could potentially lead to improper decision making by school leaders. By prohibiting bonuses for special education placements, we will ensure that practitioners are not tempted to make decisions strictly for monetary gain,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “The goal of any school district is to find the best programming and supports for a child, whether it is in-district or out-of-district. We want to prevent any provisions within superintendent contracts that can result in the misclassification of a child.”

Media reports have highlighted that a number of school districts have offered additional compensation to school superintendents to reduce the number of out-of-district placements – which are often more costly than educating a child in the home district.  In the Freehold Regional High School District, for example, a superintendent was paid $5,910 in the 2011-2012 school year on top of an $177,500 salary for reducing the number of students sent to out-of-district special education programs, according to a report in the Asbury Park Press.

The bill (S-3076) would prohibit the inclusion of a bonus in the employment contract of school superintendents for reducing the number of out-of-district placements of students with special education needs. The bill would define a bonus as a special monetary award provided to a superintendent of schools in addition to any regular salary, compensation, or emolument.

“Children with learning disabilities need to be enrolled in the programs that best meet their educational needs. Any contractual agreement that creates an incentive to place a child in a particular program, whether it is in-district or otherwise, is cause for concern,” said Senate President Sweeney (D-Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland). “We owe it to these children and their families to make sure school officials are making important decisions about a child’s educational plan based on the facts. Banning the payment of placement bonuses will ensure they play no role in the decision-making process in any school district in New Jersey.”

The committee approved the bill by a vote of 5-0. It now heads to the full Senate for a vote.