Raymond R. Wiss, president of the New Jersey School Boards Association, urged the Senate Education Committee to reform New Jersey’s existing system of school district employee tenure during a special hearing Dec. 9.
“Our state’s public schools have succeeded in spite of, not because of, the current tenure system,” said Wiss in his testimony. “In elementary and secondary public education, tenure does not exist to preserve academic freedom or to advance knowledge; it merely serves as lifetime job protection.”
Call for Reform In September, NJSBA issued a White Paper on Tenure Reform that calls for more than 30 changes in law that would accomplish that goal. Under these changes –
- Lifetime tenure would be replaced with a system of renewable employment contracts, with continuation of tenure based on effective performance. Such a system would enable a local school district to hold staff accountable for ongoing effective performance.
- The contract terms would be three to five years. Throughout this period, teachers would undergo objective performance evaluations. Based on the result, the school administration would recommend continuation of tenure and employment.
- For new employees, contractual tenure would initially be provided upon five years of satisfactory performance in a position. This contrasts with the current three-year period that automatically qualifies an employee for lifetime tenure.
“The process I’ve outlined would ensure the careful consideration of a staff member’s performance in decisions that affect his or her employment status,” said Wiss. “That’s no different than how employment works in the rest of the world.”
Archaic System Wiss pointed out that New Jersey’s public school teachers work in a dramatically different environment than they did when tenure was first enacted 101 years ago. “Since then there has been more than a century’s worth of statutes, regulations and court decisions that protect employees against arbitrary dismissal and discrimination. In addition, collective bargaining in public education – and the vast protection it affords employees in terms of working conditions, disciplinary procedures and grievance arbitration – was not even a glimmer in the eye of the state Legislature when it established tenure in 1909.
“As New Jersey seriously considers long overdue school reform, we must keep in mind that schools exist for students, not for the adults who work in them,” said Wiss. “Eliminating lifetime tenure will ensure that our public school system succeeds in its mission.