Bill Would Exempt Some School Districts From Residency Requirement

John Mooney | June 24, 2014 | Education
Measure would allow 10 counties that border New York and Pennsylvania to hire teachers from outside of New Jersey

State Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden)
New Jersey’s two-year-old requirement that public employees actually live in the state has been controversial from the start. Now a bill exempting school teachers from the residency rule is proving equally contentious.

After postponing a vote on the bill yesterday, the state Senate is expected on Thursday to take up a measure that would make exceptions in the residency requirement for 10 counties bordering New York and Pennsylvania.

Supporters contend that the current regulation poses a hardship on school districts.

But state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), the author of the initial requirement enacted in 2011, said yesterday that he wasn’t convinced there needed to be an exemption and he would not support a change.

“I’m not going to vote for it,” Norcross said yesterday, without hesitation.

Norcross’s initial law has been controversial for some of the state’s public and charter schools, particular those in cities that adjoin other states, such as Newark, Jersey City, and Camden.

School leaders have said the rule has made it difficult to attract and retain teachers from New York City and Philadelphia.

The latest bill, sponsored by state Sen. Peter Barnes (D-Middlesex), would allow districts in the border counties to be exempt from the law, although they would be required to account for and report each hire from outside the state.

The 10 exempted counties would be Bergen, Camden, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Passaic, Sussex, Warren, Mercer, and Burlington.

A companion bill has been filed in the Assembly, sponsored by state Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden), who sponsored the initial requirement.

Greenwald, the Assembly’s majority leader, yesterday conceded it was time for adjustments in a law that hasn’t worked as planned.

”We are losing people,” Greenwald said. “If there is one issue more important than others, it is jobs, and I want to encourage people to come back to New Jersey.”

But there is hardly a consensus in the Legislature on whether the requirement needs a change, not to mention any assurance of support from Gov. Chris Chris Christie, who trumpeted the initial bill in 2011.

In an interview yesterday, Norcross said he was sorry that his colleagues were trying to overturn a requirement that he remained convinced was worthwhile.

‘The law is called New Jersey First,” said Norcross, who is also the Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress in this fall’s election. “I am here to represent New Jersey.”

He called it an ”urban myth” that schools were unable to hire qualified people due to the residency law.

“If they were to show me real evidence, I’d be open to it,” he said. “But there does not appear to be real problems in districts finding teachers [in New Jersey].”