NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - State legislation that would allow school districts with multiple high schools to pool athletic resources and form cooperative sports teams could have a big impact on New Brunswick.
The potentially ground-breaking changes to the state's high school athletic program are about to hit the desk of Gov. Chris Christie, after they passed the General Assembly and State Senate on Monday.
Under the proposals, local high schools which are part of a multi-secondary school district will be allowed to pool together their athletic resources to combine teams in any sport, if either school has trouble fielding a team.
The bill is aimed at reversing the Fall 2017 NJSIAA decision that prevented West Windsor-Plainsboro High School from fielding a varsity football program due to a decline in participation.
It is sponsored by Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Trenton) and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union).
However, it is uncertain how these proposals would affect the New Brunswick Public School District, which includes a high school, several charter schools and the Health Sciences and Technology High School, and teaches thousands of students.
Dr. Aubrey Johnson, superintendent of New Brunswick Public Schools, declined to provide specific comment on the bill, citing its current status as a proposal, rather than actual legislation.
Some districts that New Brunswick plays against, such as Edison and Woodbridge, have multiple high schools. They can, in turn, now claim financial problems or lack of participation at one or more of their schools.
The legislation would allow those town's high schools to combine their teams to form one super team, such as all three Woodbridge High Schools in one team.
NJSIAA procedures used to prohibit schools that are designated sized “Group 3 or higher” from forming a “co-op” with other schools for football. However, during a vote at its December business meeting, NJSIAA member schools voted to allow schools to combine teams, but not be eligible for the state tournament.
According to NJSIAA executive director Larry White, the bill will “grant super powers” to the 20 school districts that have multiple high schools.
“As background, these bills would allow schools within the same school district to merge teams for any varsity-level sport, with neither external oversight nor review,”
White said in an op-ed last week. “The result would grant 20 multi-school districts, unilateral, unchecked super powers over 415 other schools and hundreds of thousands of children.
“For those living within one of 20 school districts with multiple high schools, the proposed legislation could close the door to playing opportunities for your kids. For those residing outside one of the aforementioned school districts, this legislation will give those 20 districts authority and powers you simply do not have, as they expose your children to unfair competition, all without oversight or review.”
Quijano said the bill is an opportunity for all students to participate in varsity athletics.
“All students within a school district should have equal access to extracurricular programs regardless of which school in the district they attend,” she said. “This bill is just plain old common sense.”
White and the NJSIAA believe this bill will have the same outcome as the “school choice” legislation that allowed certain school districts to enroll students from outside of boundaries.
According to the NJSIAA, the school choice program directly led to state championships for the Bound Brook wrestling program and Hoboken football program.
Multiple reports suggest Christie will sign be the bill before he leaves office next week.
Editor's Note: This story was edited to show that the new legislation allows "combine teams in any sport." The original story only included football.
Timothy LeCras, Sports Editor and Internship Director for TAPinto, contributed to this report