Testimony by NJEA President Barbara Keshishian

Published on Monday, June 18, 2012

Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee

Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am very pleased that both the Senate and the Assembly are considering thoughtful, progressive approaches to tenure reform. On Thursday, I testified in support of Assemblyman Diegnan’s tenure bill when it was heard by the Assembly Education committee. Today it is my pleasure to testify in support of Sen. Ruiz’s bill.

NJEA looks forward to working with the sponsors and leaders in both houses to bring these proposals together into one that will raise the standards for achieving tenure, reduce the costs of adjudicating tenure cases, and still provide the fair dismissal procedures that ensure employment decisions in our schools are made for the right reasons.

We thank Senator Ruiz and the Senate leadership for engaging us in extensive discussions over the last several months. Those discussions have made this bill stronger, fairer, and better suited to achieving our shared goal of having a great teacher in every New Jersey public school classroom.

Like the Assembly proposal, this bill accomplishes a number of important objectives. It makes tenure harder to earn. Even though only six out of ten new teachers earn tenure under the current system, some concern remains that districts are not diligent enough in ensuring that only capable, effective educators are granted tenure.

This bill addresses that concern by adopting several proposals NJEA made last year. It lengthens the time to acquire tenure from three years to four years, and it requires better mentoring and evaluation in the first year to strengthen the induction process. Before granting tenure to anyone, a district must ensure that that person is functioning at a high level.

 This bill also maintains critically important due process protections that protect our schools from political interference. No tenured teacher should be fired on a whim, as the result of a personality conflict with an administrator, or for political or other inappropriate reasons. This bill ensures that before any tenured teacher is fired, he or she has the right to a hearing before a highly qualified and neutral third party arbitrator.

It is possible that in rare circumstances, a teacher who has already demonstrated the level of professional accomplishment necessary to earn tenure under this bill will become less than effective at a later point. Should that teacher be unable or unwilling to improve, this bill streamlines the process for bringing and adjudicating tenure charges.

In the past, districts have often cited the cost and length of tenure cases as a reason they did not bring charges against educators the district believed to be ineffective. This bill removes that concern by taking cases out of the court system and placing them before highly qualified arbitrators on an expedited schedule.

In short, this bill makes it harder to earn tenure and easier to remove tenured teachers who are no longer effective. It provides better support for teachers entering the profession, and fair due process protection for those who have earned tenure, but are subsequently identified as ineffective. It decreases the cost of tenure cases, and ensures that those cases are heard quickly.

Each of those objectives is part of NJEA’s tenure reform proposal, so we are pleased to support this legislation.

When I testified before the Assembly Education Committee last week on Assemblyman Diegnan’s bill, I offered him two suggestions to strengthen his proposal. I will offer the same two suggestions to Senator Ruiz and this committee:

First, any tenure reform should apply to all public schools, including charter schools.

Second, all certificated staff should be mentored in their first year and be subject to the same evaluation process. Like Assemblyman Diegnan’s bill, this bill seems to carve out educational services staff from some of these provisions.

We stand ready to work with Senator Ruiz, Assemblyman Diegnan, and any other interested parties in crafting a final bill that incorporates our shared objectives.

Thank you.

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