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Senator Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex and Union, speaks on a point of personal privilege on the Senate floor.

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 full Senate. The bill now heads to the desk of the governor.

“The goal of any school district is to find the optimal programming and supports for a child, whether it is in-district or out-of-district. If provisions exist within a superintendent contract that have the potential to interfere with the process of placing a child in the most appropriate setting, they must be addressed,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “By prohibiting bonuses for special education placements we are taking a proactive step to ensure that district leaders are not tempted to make decisions strictly for monetary gain. In doing this, we will help to protect students from improper decision making that could ultimately lead to misclassification.”

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 Senate approved the bill by a vote of 32-1. The Assembly approved it unanimously in June. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.