Addressing the Assembly Education Committee, NJEA President Barbara Keshishian voiced NJEA’s support of tenure reform legislation sponsored by the committee’s chair, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-18).
“This legislation moves us in the right direction by making it harder to earn tenure, and less expensive and time-consuming to remove teachers who are not performing well and are unable to improve,” Keshishian said. “At the same time, it preserves the just cause and due process rights of our members, while protecting the interests of the students they teach.”
Keshishian’s testimony addressed the first of two tenure reform proposals moving their way through the Legislature. The second bill, sponsored by Senate Education Committee chair Theresa Ruiz (D-29), is expected to be heard on Monday, June 18, by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“This legislation removes tenure cases from the courts and puts them in front of arbitrators. Cases will be resolved much more quickly at a much lower cost,” Keshishian told the committee. “There will also be far fewer opportunities for either side to appeal an arbitrator’s decision.
“This addresses the concern that many of us share about the length and cost of tenure cases,” she added. “And it should take away a reason districts often cite for their decision not to act when they believe a teacher is not performing up to acceptable standards. Under this bill, it will no longer take too long or cost too much to bring tenure charges. Protracted delay and expensive litigation do not serve the interests of school employees, parents or the students in our public schools.”
But Keshishian warned that the evaluations – still being developed through a statewide pilot program – will be the key to implementing the law.
“New Jersey’s evaluation system is currently in flux,” she said. “It would be far better to agree on how teachers should be evaluated before we create a system outlining how they might possibly lose their jobs on the basis of those evaluations.
“With that in mind, we must all work together to ensure that the evaluation system we ultimately settle upon is both educationally sound and reliable enough to make such momentous decisions about the careers of New Jersey’s teachers.”
Keshishian told the committee that the Diegnan bill ensures that all tenured employees’ due process rights will be protected.
“No school employee should be fired from his or her job without just cause, and without the opportunity to have a fair hearing before a neutral third party,” she said. “Anything less would not only deny teachers the fundamental fairness they deserve when facing dismissal charges, but would also allow undue political influence over employment decisions in our schools.”