Between the Lines At Yesterday’s Senate Hearing on Tenure Reform

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All New Jersey eduwonks are consumed by yesterday’s  Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting, where the committee heard supportive testimony on 1455, Senator Teresa Ruiz’s tenure reform bill.  Most papers this morning  lead with NJEA’s support for the bill (Star-Ledger here and here, Asbury Park Press, The RecordNJ Spotlight, Bloomberg) .

Amidst the general cheer and anticipation in the Statehouse Annex community room yesterday afternoon, two subtexts loomed large: one,  everyone’s awareness that, in deference to political reality and expediency, the bill had been altered to delete  one particularly controversial part of the bill, LIFO, which deems that seniority dictates the order of lay-offs. Two, that a competing bill in the Assembly sponsored by  Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan was still on its on trajectory and, while far favored by NJEA (much of it replicates the union’s own proposal), Ruiz’s bill was on a roll.

Many groups offered public comment (although not as many as at March’s Senate Education Committee meeting). Those testifying  included NJEA’s Vince Giordano, Barbara Keshishian, and Ginger Gold Schnitzer; NJSBA’s Mike Vrancik; Newark’s AFT; Lynn Strickland of Garden State Coalition; Shavar Jeffries, Newark School Board member; Democrats for Education Reform, Better Education 4 Kids, a Jersey City school board member; reps from NJ Supervisors and Principals Association; (and me).

Here are some highlights from the proceedings:

New parlor game: how many times can NJEA say “Diegnan” during its public testimony in support of a competing bill? I lost count. But here’s NJEA’s statement regarding the Assembly bill:  “The bill, which has been significantly revised from a version NJEA opposed earlier this year, accomplishes many of the objectives set out in NJEA’s own tenure reform proposal.” Also note NJEA President Keshishian’s comment  yesterday, ““We are pleased that we were able to work with Senator Ruiz and Assemblyman Diegnan to ensure their bills reflect NJEA’s guiding principles for tenure reform. We will continue to work with them on finalizing the details, but these bills have come a long way.”
To everyone in the room except NJEA, the bill’s current language already reflects a host of compromises. (Anymore and it’s not clear that Gov. Christie will sign it.) Yet to  NJEA it’s still a work in progress. Stay tuned.

NJSBA is pissed off: remember, the school board association has been pressing for tenure reform for, well, decades and much  favors the more evolved concept of renewable five-year contracts. From its statement:

The New Jersey School Boards Association which, for over 35 years, has sought the elimination of the current system of lifetime tenure today called the TEACH for New Jersey Act a step toward improved accountability by linking effective performance with tenure retention. At the same time, the Association noted its disappointment that, in its latest version, S-1455 (Ruiz) would no longer end the seniority practice of “last in, first out” when a school district finds it necessary to reduce the size of its staff.

DFER’s Jocelyn Guber, Director of Teacher Advocacy, was less dour:
We need to acknowledge the origin of tenure systems in protecting teachers from abuse and arbitrary dismissal. These were real obstacles to past generations of educators, and today’s teachers still need and deserve protection against unfair treatment. An effective tenure system such as the one proposed in TEACHNJ, must be unbiased, fair, transparent and expeditious – and will ensure that teachers are treated like professionals.”
Everyone’s hero yesterday afternoon: Senator Ruiz.
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