Teacher tenure overhaul clears N.J. Senate committee

New Jersey

June 18, 2012

By Leslie Brody

(NorthJersey.Com, June 18, 2012)

A state Senate committee advanced a bill Monday to overhaul the century-old system for granting and revoking teacher tenure so that the job protection is linked to good performance.

A series of disparate advocacy groups expressed support for the bill, which Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, has been refining for more than a year. Many speakers said it put children’s needs for quality instruction first, while respecting the due process rights of adults.

The bill, which the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved unanimously, requires a mentorship year followed by two good evaluations for a teacher to get tenure after a fourth year on the job. A teacher would face tenure charges after poor ratings on two consecutive annual evaluations. The bill also says tenure cases should be heard by arbitrators rather than administrative judges, a change pushed by teachers’ unions.

Due to recent compromises, the bill no longer includes provisions to weaken the role of seniority in protecting veteran teachers during layoffs due to budget cuts. Ruiz had previously pushed for an end to the seniority system known as last-in-first-out but said she had to give that up to get the tenure bill passed.

The New Jersey Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Garden State Coalition of Schools, Democrats for Education Reform, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and several other groups applauded the bill.

The New Jersey School Boards Association said it was a step in the right direction, but expressed concern about the fair choice of arbitrators, and the loss of provisions to end last-in-first-out. Ruiz said that when the tenure bill is implemented and ineffective teachers are removed, that issue will “become more moot” and that longevity “will not be the sole indicator” in determining which teachers keep their jobs.

“This is a common-sense bill,” said Shavar Jeffries, a professor at Seton Hall Law School and a member of the Newark school board. “It’s common sense to say educators should only get tenure after demonstrating effectiveness on the job.’

The New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association expressed concern that the bill limited too sharply the bases on which an educator could challenge a district’s attempt to revoke tenure. The bill largely prohibits the filing of an appeal of tenure revocation except on “process” grounds for failure to “substantially adhere to the evaluation process.”