Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill today to overhaul the state’s teacher tenure system. Under the bill known as the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for Children of New Jersey Act, Teachers will have to wait at least four years instead of three — and they will have to earn consistently good grades — to gain tenure. Also, they can face firing of they get poor evaluations.
The new law came as a result of bipartisanship effort, with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) playing a key role as well. NJEA Communications Director Steve Wollmer told Managing Editor Mike Schneider about the work by various stakeholders that went into the bill.
“NJEA, the principals and supervisors, the school boards, legislators from all over, and of course the administration worked weeks on this, months actually, and it was a very hard effort for everybody but they worked hard and got a good bill that’s really a win win for everybody.”
Wollmer said the NJEA was happy to see the courts left out of the teacher dismissal process — something that was initially proposed — and instead using arbitrators.
“No one wants it to take three years and $300,000 to dismiss an ineffective teacher. That’s never going to happen again in New Jersey. Now we’re going to have 90 days to a hearing. If a teacher truly is ineffective, the arbitrator will so rule and we won’t ever read those kinds of stories again.”
The governor didn’t get everything he wanted. Seniority privileges otherwise known as the “last-in, first-out” policy for teachers in the event of layoffs, will remain under the law. Wollmer says public jobs can be influenced by outside factors and that due process mechanisms must in place that treats teachers fairly.
“If somebody decides that Mike is a high paid teacher and all of a sudden he’s not effective anymore, we can bring somebody in half the price, that’s not a good way to run a school system and yet that kind of interference can take place.
Initially, the difference between both sides of the tenure reform debate seemed far apart. Wollmer credited Democratic lawmakers Sen. Teresa Ruiz and Asm. Patrick Diegnan, and education commissioner Christopher Cerf, among others, for helping to close the divide.
“Nobody gets everything they want but what came out of it is a bill that will be, we think, a win win for the students of the state, teachers and for the public. Teachers really need to support this bill because they understand that teaching requires having a team of talented people in your building, they don’t want any ineffective teachers either.”
Asked about the reaction by the union members, he said there is concern among teachers but thinks they will feel more comfortable as they learn more about the new law. To that objective, the NJEA has posted information in its website and will continue to disseminate that information all summer long to its members. Wollmer acknowledged there are still things that need to be resolved, namely the teacher evaluation process.
“That’s still in the works. We have eleven districts I believe piloting it and another twenty coming on board. We don’t know exactly what the evaluation system will be and that’s everything in a way because how you’re rated in your evaluations will determine whether or not you’re taken to a dismissal hearing.”
Asked if today’s bill signing is an indication that the union’s relationship with the Christie administration has thawed, Wollmer said “we’re still going to have our disagreements and the governor would agree with that but on this issue we worked hard, we worked with his representatives and everybody I think is happy with the process.”