|10-25-12 Camden T&E Case Snagged at Admin Law Judge Level...Spin-off Newark Teacher Group Rejecting Proposed Contract|
Star Ledger - Judge declines to transfer 3 Camden students despite parents' claims
NJ Spotlight - Judge Rules Against Parents in Camden Case, Kids to Remain in District Schools…Citing poor test grades and decaying public schools does not sway judge in petition for emergent relief
NJ Spotlight - Jeers and Cheers Greet Newark Teachers Contract Agreement…Dissident NTU faction helps ensure that contract is not a done deal
Star Ledger - Judge declines to transfer 3 Camden students despite parents' claims
By MaryAnn Spoto/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger
TRENTON — An administrative law judge refused yesterday to remove three Camden students from the city’s public schools despite their parents’ contention that the children shouldn’t be forced to stay in failing schools.
Judge Edward Delanoy said the parents’ arguments didn’t satisfy the criteria needed for him to order an immediate relocation for them.
Three parents — Sandra Vargas, Maria Roldan and Gricelda Ruiz, — filed a class-action petition Oct. 15 against the Camden Board of Education claiming their sons were being denied a thorough and efficient education and demanded they be removed immediately.
Among their arguments before Delanoy on Monday, attorneys for the parents and the board of education sparred over whether the children were suffering irreparable harm by remaining in the district.
Patricia Bombelyn and Julio Gomez, attorneys who represented the parents, said they plan to ask state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf to find in their favor.
"If the (judge’s) legal analysis is allowed to stand, it will mean that zip codes do indeed determine whether or not a child has the right to a thorough and efficient education in New Jersey," they said in a joint statement. "We are hopeful that the commissioner of education will carefully review this matter and place the immediate needs and interests of children ahead of the interests of a school district that has failed them for over a decade."
Delanoy said the parents did not prove their children had suffered academically by remaining in the schools. He also noted they did not prove relocating them would prevent irreparable harm.
"It would be unfair to place the blame for the alleged shortcomings of the petitioner schoolchildren solely at the feet of the district without regard for some consideration of sufficient proofs to indicate that the district is to blame," Delanoy wrote in his 12-page decision. "Without those proofs, it cannot be determined whether or not these petitioner schoolchildren are currently receiving a thorough and efficient education."
Bombelyn has said Camden, which has 1 percent of all the schools in New Jersey, constitutes 33 percent of all schools in New Jersey that are considered by the state Department of Education to be the lowest performing.
Cerf can adopt, change or reject Delanoy’s ruling.
Lester Taylor III, solicitor for Camden schools, has contended there is no proof that they children are suffering immediate irreparable harm. He also argued the district would suffer a greater harm because the relocation of the three students could lead to all 12,000 students leaving the district along with the $350 million in education financing.
An administrative law judge yesterday ruled against three Camden parents hoping to yank their kids from public schools on the grounds that they were failing to provide a “through and efficient” education.
The court's decision in Vargas v. Camden adds to the state’s never-ending debate over constitutional rights to a quality education.
Essentially, the parents filed a class-action complaint with the state arguing that their children should be entitled to attend another district or even private school on the public’s dime because they were suffering “irreparable harm” for every day they stayed in the Camden system.
As part of the case filed with state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, the three petitioners sought immediate emergent -- or emergency -- relief to flee what is arguably the lowest-performing district in the state.
The hearing on the case was held Tuesday, and the petitioners’ lawyers cited at least some of the students’ poor academic performance, along with the mounting criticisms of the district that has placed it on the verge of state takeover.
But Administrative Law Judge Edward Delanoy yesterday released his order that would deny the emergent request. The order goes back to Cerf for final determination.
Delanoy wrote that the families’ argument failed to prove that these particular children were being harmed by the schools, and that a host of variables are at work in determining their status.
“Mere allegations that [state] tests have been failed and that performance is decreasing does not necessarily distinguish these students from any other student in this State who may also have failed a test and/or have worsening grades,” Delanoy wrote.
“It would be unfair to place the blame for the alleged shortcomings of the petitioner schoolchildren solely at the feet of the District, without regard for some consideration of sufficient proofs to indicate that the District is to blame,” he wrote.
The judge was not an apologist for the district, but said that its larger failures had not been proven to be harming these individual students.
“Mere reliance on an overwhelmingly unfavorable general review of the District’s schools, without more, is not enough to establish that petitioners are not receiving a thorough and efficient education in each of their particular circumstances,” Delanoy wrote.
The petitioners, represented by advocates who have long pressed for private school vouchers in the state, said they would challenge Delanoy’s decision while continuing to pursue the larger class-action case.
“We are hopeful that the Commissioner of Education will carefully review this matter and place the immediate needs and interests of children ahead of the interests of a school district that has failed them for over a decade,” read the joint statement from lawyers Patricia Bombelyn and Julio Gomez.
The historic contract agreement with Newark teachers that would establish the state’s first large-scale performance bonuses may not be a done deal after all.
In the aftermath of a raucous membership meeting Tuesday night that saw teachers openly criticizing their union leaders, the president of the Newark Teachers Union was making no guarantees yesterday that the deal would win ratification in a day-long vote on Monday.
The vote will be held at the union’s Broad Street headquarters from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“It’s in the hands of the members at this point,” said Joseph Del Grosso, the longtime NTU president, “The way that meeting went, all I’ll say it’s in the hands of the members.”
In an interview yesterday, Del Grosso maintained that the agreement reached with state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson -- with the blessing of Gov. Chris Christie -- was the best deal the union could hope to win. It includes average raises of nearly 14 percent over three years and retroactive raises for the past two years between $3,000 and $12,500.
“If you look at the entire picture, this is not a bad contract,” he said. “There are a lot of [teachers] unions out there getting zeros in terms of raises and no retroactive pay at all.”
But a sudden and powerful player in the debate is a dissident faction within the union known as the Newark Education Workers (NEW) Caucus.
Once considered a loud but small element in the 3,300-member union, it has mobilized considerable opposition to the contract and openly said it would mount a challenge to Del Grosso in his expected bid for reelection next May.
Its leaders were among those speaking out at the Tuesday night membership meeting held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, where Del Grosso was repeatedly shouted down in defending the contract deal.
The chief complaint, caucus leaders said, is the contact’s provisions for two salary guides that they maintain will split the union: one that would provide bonuses, another that wouldn’t.
The first would be required for new teachers and those with bachelor’s degrees. Teachers with master's degrees or those who hold a doctorate would have the one-time option to move to the new guide or stay with the standard one.
“It only pits new and veteran teachers against each other, those with B.A.s against those with advanced degrees,” said Leah Owens, an English teacher at Central High School who chairs the new caucus.
“It creates a division that is unnecessary at a time when we need to be more unified than ever,” Owens said last night in an interview.
Other concerns have surfaced as well. The bonuses are expected to be paid out of the $100 million fund that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg set up for the Newark schools two years ago, one that has stirred both praise and resentment. Critics of the contract have asked what will happen to the bonuses when the private money runs out.
And as for the above-average raises in the agreement, Owens said there were other givebacks in the deal that offset them, including the possibility of longer hours and greater responsibilities
“This is a carrot on a stick,” she said. “Why would they give us all this money. What is behind Door No. 1?”
The group met last night at American History High School and drew close to 80 NTU members, its largest turnout yet, Owens said. Much of the discussion was on the contract and how the group will continue its campaign on social media and elsewhere to fight it.
Owens said the discussion did turn to the caucus mounting a challenge to Del Grosso and his leadership next spring. “If we want to remain strong, we need to revitalize our union,” she said.
Del Grosso said the election is the prime motivation for the new group and its leaders. “This is more political than anything else,” he said.
Nonetheless, they have him worried, and he said the union would be mounting its own campaign for the contract with teams going into schools to talk to its members. The American Federation of Teachers, the national union that includes the NTU, is contributing staffers to those teams as well.
“We’re going in during lunch hours, talking to them during their prep times,” he said. “We’re making the rounds.”
Del Grosso said they have so far heard generally positive reviews in those meetings, but he did not rule out it could go other way next Monday.
“It’s my plan if this goes down, I’ll put [the critics] on the negotiating team,” he said. “Let them go to the governor and see how they do.”
Garden State Coalition of Schools