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NJSBA Commends Christie, Legislators on Tenure Reform Act

MIDDLESEX August 6, 2012—The New Jersey School Boards Association today commended Governor Christie and the state Legislature for enacting tenure reform legislation that, it said, represents an important step toward quality instruction for all students.  The governor signed S-1455, the TEACHNJ Act, into law during a ceremony this morning at a middle school in Middlesex Borough.

“The new law creates an essential link between the tenure process and teacher performance.  It also calls for an objective evaluation system to help ensure consistency,” said Marie S. Bilik, NJSBA executive director. “We commend the bi-partisan effort, and hope to see further reforms in areas such as seniority, which would further strengthen school district leaders’ ability to ensure that the most effective teachers are in the classroom.”

For more than 35 years, NJSBA has sought the elimination of the current lifetime tenure system.  When the TEACHNJ Act passed the Legislature in June, NJSBA expressed disappointment that the bill did not eliminate “last in, first out.” That practice requires districts to use seniority, rather than performance, as the criterion in determining which teachers are retained during a staff reduction.  

Overall, however, NJSBA supports the governor’s action in signing the TEACHNJ Act today.

Although the new law will not eliminate tenure, NJSBA supports aspects of the TEACHNJ Act that reduce the time and cost of tenure hearings. It also views positively the bill’s emphasis on teacher evaluation and the additional year required before a school employee can initially earn tenure.

The legislation requires a superintendent to recommend the filing of tenure charges after consecutive annual evaluation ratings of ineffective.  The ratings are to be based upon an evaluation process approved by the commissioner of education. “This provision represents a major change in how the tenure laws have been applied up to now,” commented Bilik.

To expedite the tenure hearing process, S-1455 would require that tenure charges go to binding arbitration, with strict timelines for a decision, rather than to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing. Earlier, NJSBA expressed concern that the arbitrator selection process is weighted toward unions, and is advocating a more balanced approach.

S-1455 reflects two amendments sought by NJSBA. One requires the state, and not local school districts, to pay for all costs associated with the legislation, including cost of arbitrating tenure cases.  The second amendment states that, “A school district’s evaluation rubric approved by the commissioner … shall not be subject to collective negotiations.”

“NJSBA thanks Governor Christie, Senator Teresa Ruiz and other legislative leaders for their work on this critical legislation,” said Bilik.  “The TEACHNJ Act represents a first step in ensuring quality instruction for all New Jersey children.”