IS YOUR DISTRICT IN THE KNOW ABOUT THE NEW LAWS?

During the 2011-2012 legislative session, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed and the Governor signed into law numerous legislative measures which address public school districts in some manner.   Following is a brief summary of the relevant portions of the new laws.

  • Act 83 of 2011 redefines the term “vocational agricultural education” as used in Section 1801(4) of the School Code and expands the scope of the term to include career exploration in  natural resource sciences, agribusiness, energy systems, biotechnology, forestry, horticulture and other related fields of study.
  • Act 97 of 2011   increases the bid limitations applicable to public school districts for contracts and the purchase of supplies, effective January, 2013.  Under the new Act, construction work must be put out to bid by a school district where the value of the labor and materials exceeds $18,500 (an increase from the current $10,000).  School district personnel will be required to obtain written or telephonic price quotations where the value of any contract exceeds $10,000 (an increase from the current $4,000).  School district personnel will be required to advertise and obtain bids for the purchase of any equipment or supplies exceeding $18,500 (an increase from the current $10,000).  Further, the new limitations will be updated and adjusted following increases to the Department of Labor and Industry’s All Items Consumer Price Index for All urban Consumers (CPI-U) measurement.
  • Act 101 of 2011 the Safety in Youth Sports Act, addresses the diagnosis and treatment of concussions in student athletes.  First, the Act requires the Department of Health and the Department of Education to post information online concerning the nature and risk of concussions and traumatic brain injuries in youth sports.  The Act encourages districts to hold an informational meeting with students, parents, coaches and other personnel to discuss concussion risks and baseline assessments.  The Act imposes an annual education requirement regarding concussion management which must be met by coaches prior to commencing coaching.  Most importantly, the Act requires athletic coaches to remove student athletes who exhibit concussion symptoms from play and evaluate them, with the student not being eligible to return to play until after being cleared in writing by an appropriate medical professional.  For coaches who fail to remove an affected student athlete from play, or return a student athlete to play without the written medical clearance, a first offense is  met with a suspension from coaching for the remainder of the season, while a second offense is met with a suspension from coaching for the rest of the season and the following season and a third offense receives a permanent ban from coaching.
  • Act 105 of 2011  amends the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 to update and modernize the terminology used to describe individuals with disabilities.  The term “mental retardation” is replaced by the term “intellectual disability.”
  • Act 111 of 2011   amends the Pennsylvania Crimes Code to criminalize indecent contact or sexual intercourse between school employees or volunteers and students.  Under the new law, it is a third degree felony for an individual who is an employee (defined broadly to include both school employees and independent contractors with direct student contact) or a volunteer to engage in sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse or indecent contact with a school student, regardless of the student’s age.
  • Act 31 of 2012  amends Section 1519 of the School Code to permit school districts to enter into contracts with private driving schools for classroom instruction of driver’s education.  In addition, if a school district has posted an available driver’s ed instructor position on its website for ten (10) days and no applicants certified by PDE have indicated an interest in the position, the district may employ an individual who is not a certificated professional to teach driver’s education.
  • Act 59 of 2012  titled the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act, is addressed to preventing the occurrence of cardiac arrest in student athletes.  The Act requires that student athletes who exhibit signs of cardiac arrest be removed from athletic contests and be cleared by a physician, nurse practitioner or cardiologist before participation in athletic activity is resumed.  The Department of Health and Department of Education are required to post information and guidelines about the risks associated with cardiac arrest for students, parents and coaches.  The Act requires that athletic coaches complete annual training on recognizing signs of cardiac arrest before coaching can begin, and imposes penalties on coaches who fail to withdraw students from competition as directed.
  • Act 71 of 2012  permits taxing bodies to abate 2011 real estate taxes for properties damaged by recent tropical storms.  The Act also permits reassessment of damaged properties to reflect losses in fair market value and permits the imposition of a moratorium on taxation of reconstruction or repairs made to damaged properties.
  • Act 82 of 2012  amends the background check requirements of Section 111 of the School Code to include student teacher candidates and to clarify that the new disclosure requirements apply to both current and prospective employees and compel disclosure of both arrests and convictions of the relevant offenses.   The Act permits school districts to undertake any construction project internally provided the cost or value of the work does not exceed $18,500.  The Act also broadens the requisite qualifications for potential school district superintendents by permitting individuals with graduate degrees in finance or management and at least four (4) years of experience in that field to be eligible for appointment, and also permitting holders of J.D. degrees with four (4) years of experience in the legal field to be eligible candidates for superintendency, though this provision is effective only for the next three (3) years.  The Act requires superintendents to have written contracts subject to disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law and containing specific terms and conditions related to compensation, postretirement benefits, unused sick leave, permissibility of outside work and the conduct of a performance review of the superintendent based upon objective performance standards which may be based on data such as test scores, graduation rates or other criteria.  Further, superintendent contracts may not provide for severance/postretirement compensation that exceeds the value of one (1) year of compensation or benefits if the severance/postretirement clause takes effect with two (2) or more years left in the commission, and for such clauses which take effect with less than two years remaining in the commission, the compensation may not exceed one-half of the remaining compensation and benefits to be paid.  Act 82 overhauls the statewide teacher evaluation system by creating a new evaluation rubric to take effect for the 2013-2014 school years.  The new rubric assesses a teacher’s performance 50% based on student achievement data, with that 50% broken down into building-level data (15%), teacher-specific data (15%) and locally-developed data (20%).  Beginning the following year, 2014-2015, Principals are also required to be evaluated on a similarly-designed rubric of student achievement data.  Act 82 eliminates the need for school districts to apply to PDE for approval of furloughs where the reason for the furlough is caused by an alteration or curtailment of the school’s educational program.  The Act provides for payments to be made to school districts accepting transfer students from distressed school districts.  Finally, the Act requires disclosure of athletic opportunities made available by school districts in the form of a mandatory disclosure form to be submitted annually to PDE which lists (1) the number of students by gender and ethnicity in the district, (2) athletic participation on a team-by-team basis, by gender and ethnicity, (3) the total value of contributions made by boosters and nonschool groups to each activity, (4) the total amount of expenditures made for each team for travel, uniforms, equipment and supplies, coaches, construction and renovation of facilities and trainers.
  • Act 85 of 2012  expands the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program both in the amount of funds devoted to the original program and in providing for the creation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which permits funds raised through the granting of tax credits to be used to fund scholarships for students to attend public and nonpublic schools.
  • Act 97 of 2012  amends the Municipalities Planning Code to require municipalities to inform school superintendents of the approval of any residential development plans which receive final approval, specifying the number and type of units to be built and the construction schedule.
  • Act 105 of 2012  permits the Secretary of Education to request a public hearing in a school district after a one-year contract impasse.  At that public hearing, testimony can be presented by the Board and Administration, the Employee Organization and any other party requested by the Secretary of Education.  The public is provided thirty (30) days to submit written testimony, and ninety (90) days following the hearing, the Secretary of Education will issue a non-bindnig report on recommendations regarding the contract impasse.  The Act also directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to prepare a report concerning the professional development requirements for teachers.
  • Act 126 of 2012  requires school entities and independent contractors employed by schools to train employees who have direct contact with children to recognize the signs of child abuse and sexual misconduct.  The mandated training must be in the amount of at least three (3) hours every five (5) years.
  • Act 141 of 2012  provides for comprehensive oversight of distressed school districts, including the appointment of a Chief Recovery Officer and an Advisory Committee to oversee the affairs of a financially distressed school district.  Act 141 also permits students to wear military uniforms to high school commencement ceremonies.

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