Assembly Panel Advances Teacher Tenure Reform Legislation

TRENTON— Tenure reform legislation introduced by Assembly Education Chairman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. was released 7-0-3 Thursday by the Assembly education panel.

“This is meaningful tenure reform that does what’s best for our children while balancing the protection of due process for our principals and teachers” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “This is real change that will ensure new teachers are properly trained and evaluated and that tenure charges are handled in a timely and professional manner. We will no longer endure endless tenure squabbles that consume taxpayer dollars meant for education. Instead, this legislation gives school districts cost and time certainty when it comes to removing ineffective teaching staff members. Our focus will be where it should be – making sure we have the best teachers in the classroom.”

Under current state law, teachers, principals, school business administrators and other school staffers become tenured after completing three years employment in a school district.

Under the reform bill (A-3060):

  • Tenure would be provided after four years employment in a school district;
  • A new teacher would spend their first year in a mentorship program during which the new teacher will be partnered with a highly effective teacher for assistance, support and guidance;
  • Each school district would have to annually submit to the education commissioner the evaluation plan it will use to test the effectiveness of teachers and administrators;
  • Any teacher or administrator who receives an ineffective rating on two consecutive annual evaluations may face tenure charges;
  • Any teacher or administrator who receives an ineffective rating on three consecutive annual evaluations must face tenure charges;
  • Binding arbitration would be required for any contested tenure cases, with the arbitrator’s decision becoming binding and not subject to appeal;
  • The Public Employees Relations Commission would choose the arbitrator from a permanent list of 20, eight of which will be designated by the New Jersey Education Association, eight by the New Jersey School Boards Association and four by the New Jersey Principal and Supervisors Association through mutual agreement.
  • Contested cases would no longer be referred to Administrative Law Judges, and the final determination would no longer be made by the education commissioner;
  • The hearing before the arbitrator must be held within 60 days of the case being assigned, and the arbitrator would have 30 days to render a decision.

“This is a significant step toward creating a sustained process to expeditiously remove ineffective teachers from our schools,” Diegnan said. “In those cases where questions arise about a teacher’s effectiveness, school boards will be able to get a timely review and safeguard the quality of education that exists in our schools.”

Diegnan added, “Today is progress and a step in the right direction, but I look forward to continued cooperation with the Senate and all the stakeholders involved to arrive at an agreement everyone can support.”

The New Jersey School Boards Association, a non-partisan federation of the state’s local boards of education, expressed some reservations about portions of the bill.

The process for selecting the arbitrator who will hear a tenure case is weighted in favor of the union, according to NJSBA Executive Director Marie Bilik.

Under the proposal, the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission would select an arbitrator from a pool of 24—ten identified by NJSBA and 14 selected by employee groups (the NJEA and the New Jersey Association of Principals and Supervisors).

“Such an imbalance presents a much greater chance of PERC assigning a union-identified arbitrator to a tenure case,” said Bilik.

“We are seeking an amendment which would ensure that, for every tenure case, PERC is able to select from a balanced pool of management- and union-identified arbitrators,” she explained.

“The use of an arbitrator is intended to make the hearing process shorter and less expensive once tenure charges are actually filed,” Bilik continued. “Getting to that point is the problem, however. Provisions of A-3060 would extend the timelines before a school administrator could actually recommend tenure charges based on inefficiency, the category that addresses the quality of teaching.

“Right now, there are no such time limits on filing charges of inefficiency. The only current proviso is that the teacher has 90 days to improve—rather than one to two years as under A-3060—before the tenure charges can move forward.”

An NJSBA-sought amendment to A-3060 would authorize school administrators to recommend tenure charges any time after an employee is given notice of ineffective performance and is placed on a corrective action plan.

“This amendment would ensure a more responsive and effective process, which relies on the professional judgment of school administrators and supervisors, while still providing due process for the employee,” Bilik explained.

“We appreciate Assemblyman Diegnan’s communication with us on his proposal, and we look forward to working with him on amendments,” she commented.

Last week, New Jersey Education Association President Barbara Keshishian welcomed Diegnan’s proposal to the tenure reform debate. “Now we can have an open public discussion about the best way to reduce the time and costs associated with the current tenure system while maintaining reasonable safeguards against politics infiltrating our classrooms,” she said. “I am confident that NJEA’s members will stand with us in supporting smart tenure reform.”

The NJEA represents more than 169,000 teachers and education support professionals.

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