NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer released this statement regarding the lawsuit filed today by an out-of-state special interest group seeking to overturn New Jersey’s statute regarding seniority for teachers.

“Campbell Brown and her out-of-state special interest group are misleading New Jersey parents and residents about our public schools to advance their harmful political agenda. New Jersey’s seniority statute, which they seek to overturn by court order, provides an important protection to students and communities by keeping politics, and politicians, out of the decision-making process when layoffs are imposed on our public schools.

“The lawsuit is premised on a lie that districts are prevented from dealing with teachers who are not willing or able to do their jobs effectively. Tenure is difficult to obtain in New Jersey, so no teacher gets tenure without demonstrating an ability to do the job well. Even more, the tenure law outlines a specific and fair process to remove a teacher who is ineffective at any time. What the law prevents is the sort of political interference that would be inevitable if administrators could be pressured to fire teachers without having to give a reason. This lawsuit seeks to throw out that system of checks and balances and give unfettered freedom to fire excellent veteran teachers in favor of less experienced newer teachers who earn lower salaries.

“Hiding behind the specter of layoffs is cowardly. First, if a teacher is not effective, a district should not wait until layoffs to take action. That teacher should be given the opportunity and support needed to show improvement and if there is not improvement, the district should take action under the tenure law to prove that the teacher is not doing his or her job. That doesn’t require a financial crisis; it just requires conscientious administrators.

“Second, this is another attempt to scapegoat teachers for the state’s failure to provide the resources and support needed in so many districts across the state. If the state would meet its legal and moral obligation to fund schools according to the need identified by the state’s funding formula, districts would not be forced to make harmful layoffs.  Rather than demonizing teachers, Campbell Brown and her group should prove that they really care about New Jersey’s children by fighting for the funding that politicians like Chris Christie have withheld from our most vulnerable districts. That has been the actual assault on students’ constitutional right to a thorough and efficient education over the last seven years.

“New Jersey’s public schools are among the very best in the nation because New Jersey’s teachers and school employees are talented, committed and excellent at what they do. The protections we have against political interference, including our tenure law and the seniority law that this suit seeks to overturn, are part of the reason for our success. We will fight to protect students and teachers alike against political interference in our schools and against out-of-state interlopers trying to impose their harmful agenda.”

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