Senate Panel Votes to Loosen Teacher Residency Requirements

By Brenda Flanagan

When teachers head home after a long day in their New Jersey classrooms, a 3-year-old law says they’re supposed to end up at a New Jersey address unless they’ve got a special waiver. But forcing Jersey teachers to to live in Jersey has raised a few unanticipated obstacles.

“If you were looking to attract the best and keep the best in our public schools, where they live is not our concern,” said Marie Blistan.

“What’s happening is, a lot of very good teachers are being excluded — especially in Newark and Camden,” Sen. Peter Barnes said.

Today a Senate panel convened to consider amending that residency requirement, although lawmakers applauded its original intent.

“It sounds good on paper to support only New Jersey residents for New Jersey jobs. But you need to realize the ramifications because of our proximity to New York and Pennsylvania,” Barnes said.

That’s why Barnes sponsored this amendment. School districts complain the residency requirement shrinks their list of potential hires, especially in school districts bordering other states.

“We have heard feedback about the decline in job application pool. Now’s the time to take a step back and evaluate,” said John Burns of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

It’s especially tough, convincing highly-sought science and math teachers, then often ask for waivers. Without that exemption, they don’t want to commit, according to the NJEA.

“Eliminating the residency requirement is a win-win for our school districts, employees and for the students they educate. For the students it ends the threat of losing a favorite teacher — not because of a performance, but because of where they happen to live,” said Beth Schroeder-Buonsanti of the NJEA.

Barnes’ proposed a three-year pilot program that would exempt school districts from the residency requirement in 10 New Jersey counties along state borders, prompting one question.

“To take certain categories and say exempt these but not those, well do we want residency requirements or not?” asked Sen. Sam Thompson.

Almost no one criticized the bill, except to say it should exempt all New Jersey counties, not just those bordering other states. It was easily voted out of committee.