A state legislator whose bill would provide multi-year contracts for public high school coaches and afford those facing nonrenewal with an unprecedented avenue for appeal is “very optimistic” his proposal will become law.
Attorney Steve Farsiou, who has represented more than a dozen terminated scholastic coaches in civil lawsuits against New Jersey school districts over the last decade, believes the vast majority, if not all, of his clients would never have lost their jobs had the legislation of Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Bergen/Passaic, been on the books years ago.
Critics of the legislation believe it may impede a school district’s ability, when necessary, to remove coaches, all of which are currently employed in New Jersey under one-year renewable contracts, and burden local taxpayers with additional costs.
The Assembly Education Committee unanimously advanced Wimberly’s legislation last month in a 10-0 vote with one abstention.
Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, who recently introduced a companion bill, said he hopes the Senate Education Committee will conduct a hearing this fall on the legislation with a similarly favorable outcome, enabling it to head to the full statehouse floor for a vote.
“I’m very optimistic,” Wimberly, who is also the head football coach at Hackensack High School, said of his belief that Gov. Phil Murphy will sign the legislation into law in time for it to take effect beginning in the 2020-21 academic year.
“I think it’s a major protection for coaches when it comes to being unjustly fired,” Wimberly said. “In many cases, guys are being fired because they didn’t play a school board member’s child, or a (student-athlete) didn’t play a position they wanted to play, so you have parents go to the school board and make an issue out of it.
“But let’s also make it clear. If you do something that’s out of character that blatantly gives you grounds for being fired, you would still be terminated. That’s not the protection we are looking for. We are trying to protect good guys.”
Wimberly said he believes too many good coaches, including some hall of fame mentors, have been removed for “arbitrary, capricious, or unlawful reasons,” including unproved allegations of bullying.
‘Epidemic in New Jersey’
“We have an epidemic going on in New Jersey, and that epidemic is people using the HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying) law as a sword and not for the right purposes,” said Farsiou, who is a partner in the Flemington-based law firm of Trinity & Farsiou. “Attacking head coaches is No. 1 at the top of that list.”
Sen. Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, who helped author the state’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, which is widely regarded as the nation’s strongest policy of its kind, said he believes some “innocent coaches” may have lost their positions as an unintended consequence of the law.
For that reason, Diegnan said he supports the purpose of the legislation Wimberly and Singleton introduced, which includes an appeal process for coaches facing nonrenewal.