CONTACT: Al Marlin
State lawmakers took a number of significant steps during this legislative session to protect the health and safety of our students and to provide local school districts with new tools and flexibility to enhance educational programs.
At the same time, we also must note that some legislative actions taken this year are likely to impose new costs and unnecessary mandates on local school districts.
Positive developments from this year’s session include:
- Legislation passed in May to authorize installation of stop-arm cameras will help curb dangerous driving near school buses. Stop-arm cameras can provide an important tool for local law enforcement to ensure that our students remain safe as they travel to and from school each day. We also appreciate Gov. Cuomo’s commitment to sign this important safety measure into law.
- A courageous decision to end religious exemptions that have allowed parents to send their unvaccinated children to school will safeguard countless young lives from dangerous diseases, such as measles. We realize this was a difficult vote for many legislators, given intense and emotional objections from opponents, but we thank the Senate, the Assembly and the governor for acting to stem this growing threat to public health.
- The Legislature approved a number of requests for forgiveness from building aid penalties stemming from years-old clerical errors and late reporting mistakes related to capital projects. Under current law, the mistakes can cost individual districts millions of dollars and have a significant impact on their finances. We encourage Gov. Cuomo to sign these bills into law.
- We welcome legislation that authorizes all local school districts to require kindergarten attendance. Kindergarten provides youngsters with a strong start on the educational continuum, and we urge Gov. Cuomo to sign this legislation into law.
- The Legislature declined to pass legislation that would have required school districts to hire independent hearing officers for disciplinary hearings involving Civil Service employees and provide extended tenure-like protections now reserved for teachers and other professionals who have earned them. This costly and time-consuming proposal would have created a cumbersome process similar to the current teacher disciplinary system for teachers, 3020-a, for thousands of additional public school employees. This proposal also would have barred districts from placing employees awaiting a hearing on unpaid suspension, even in cases of misconduct.
We are disappointed, however, by some missed opportunities to protect local taxpayers from excessive new costs and mandates. We expect some outcomes from this session could force school districts and taxpayers to shoulder significant new costs and additional layers of time-consuming administrative work without additional financial help from the state.
Among the disappointing developments:
- Lack of action to correct an oversight in New York’s new law providing expanded time off for employees to vote will trigger unpredictable disruptions to instruction and add potentially huge new expenses for substitutes to cover for absent teachers, aides, bus drivers and other employees. The new law, which was passed as part of the state budget, omits an exemption that had limited access to this leave to those employees who do not already have at least four consecutive non-working hours available to vote, a category that includes most school employees.
- Lawmakers failed to provide local schools with the ability to opt out of hosting polling places when local boards determine that providing public access to school buildings for voting will compromise safety for students and staff.
Legislation requiring school districts to establish workplace violence prevention plans and submit them to the State Labor Department needlessly duplicates many systems and requirements already in place in virtually all school districts. Districts already must develop comprehensive safety plans that provide for training in non-violent conflict resolution, building security policies and procedures and annual safety training for staff and students. If signed into law by the governor, this duplicative requirement simply will impose another costly mandate and take time away from the many other duties school staff members must handle.