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2-24-14 Education and Related Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Newark Schools Chief Wants Teacher Performance Included in Layoff Criteria...Union leaders leap to defense of long-established contractual practice

NJ Spotlight - Administration Cautiously OKs Two Charters, Passes on Two More...A pair of charter school networks get the nod to open in Camden and Newark, but DOE approach continues to be decidedly slower than in earlier years

NJ Spotlight - Newark Schools Chief Wants Teacher Performance Included in Layoff Criteria

John Mooney | February 24, 2014

Union leaders leap to defense of long-established contractual practice

In an unprecedented move, Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson has asked Christie administration to waive seniority rules that dictate how planned teacher layoffs in the state-run district are to be conducted.

The request essentially seeks the state’s permission for Anderson to consider teacher performance in determining the future layoffs of potentially hundreds of the state-run district’s teachers to fend off a looming budget crisis.

“In short, NPS must address its fiscal crisis while increasing teacher quality,” reads a draft of the letter Anderson is expected to release today.

”The only way to do this is to be granted an equivalency to base layoff decisions on both length of service and performance in order to remain competitive and offer quality schooling options for all Newark families. “

But the request, filed on Friday, faces long political and legal odds – and already loud protests -- in the face of a so-far unbendable state law that requires staff reductions to be based solely on years of experience, under a policy known as “last in, first out.”

Anderson already faces intense public criticism of her “One Newark” plan for reorganizing the district , and union leaders decried the waiver request and threatened legal challenges -- even before request was announced.

“It will enable her to mass-fire Newark’s teachers,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the national American Federation of Teachers, in a statement Saturday. “This isn’t what students need or teachers deserve, and it creates more distrust in a community already laden with it.”

The application now sits on the desk of outgoing state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who has been among Anderson’s most steadfast supporters. Cerf said yesterday that he had yet to read the request – he has only a week before he leaves office on Feb. 28.

In her planned letter and accompanying presentation, Anderson says the district faces a shortfall of $100 million over the next three years. With enrollment dropping by as much as 30 percent, staffing would need to see a similar reduction over the next three years, amounting to close to 1,000 teachers, she said.

A copy of the waiver request was not provided this weekend, but Anderson’s expected letter and a previous presentation outline her rationale and her reasons for the request.

Specifically, Anderson has said she would seek a waiver of the lengthy administrative code that details rules for the operation of school districts.

Related Links

NJ Administrative Code, Title 6A, Chapter 32

Tenure Bill Full of Compromises

Sweeney Speaks on Education Issues

The administrative code’s Title 6A, Chapter 32, Subchapter 5 specifically addresses seniority, starting as follows:

“Seniority … shall be determined according to the number of academic or calendar years of employment, or fraction thereof, as the case may be, in the school district in specific categories as hereinafter provided.”

Instead, Anderson performance-based plan would add another factor to the equation: the teacher’s effectiveness, as judged through a new evaluation system with a four-point scale ranging from “highly effective” to “ineffective.”

The presentation being sent out today says a performance-based system would spare from layoffs all teachers who have been deemed “highly effective,” and a majority of those evaluated as “effective,” the latter group roughly making up 60 percent of the overall teaching corps.

“We believe our students deserve the best and that NPS, just like high performing public charters and private schools, should be able to consider quality alongside years of service in making staffing decisions,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, Anderson’s chief talent officer.

“Highly effective teachers have life changing impacts on students - families know this and communities demand this,” she said. “We must retain our best."

Under the proposed system, the layoffs would hit hardest among teachers who have already been moved out of classrooms to the district’s excess pool, representing teachers who were in schools closed by the district and have not been picked up by another school. Using a performance-based system, half of those teachers would face possible layoffs, the presentation said.

Virtually all teachers with “ineffective” ratings – about 4 percent of the teaching force – would face layoffs.

Still, before any of this happens, the political and legal realities pose enormous challenges. Even before the waiver request was announced, leaders of the district’s teachers union and its national organization issued a press release protesting Anderson’s plans, which had been anticipated for months. . “Yet again, Superintendent Anderson has demonstrated why the Newark community should regain control of its schools,” said Weingarten in a statement. “In her quest to impose her One Newark school consolidation plan … she is now seeking a wholesale waiver of state law and the contract she negotiated.”

But the legal questions may prove the most daunting, as the state’s seniority law is clear in requiring that any reductions in force be based on LIFO criteria. The waiver request addresses administrative regulations, which are only the guidelines for enforcing the law.

And as for any attempt to change the law, it has represented a deep line in the sand for the state’s powerful teachers unions and their ample number of supporters in the Legislature.

When the state revamped its tenure law two years with unanimous approval of the Legislature, the one piece left untouched was the LIFO clause. Christie has said that eliminating or at least modifying LIFO remains a priority, but he has little support among Democratic leaders.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said earlier this month that he would not support any changes in the LIFO protections, saying they prevent districts from targeting senior teachers with higher salaries.


NJ Spotlight - Administration Cautiously OKs Two Charters, Passes on Two More

John Mooney | February 24, 2014

A pair of charter school networks get the nod to open in Camden and Newark, but DOE approach continues to be decidedly slower than in earlier years

The Christie administration continues its recent, more deliberative approach to charter schools, approving two more for next fall in Camden and Newark but passing up two more controversial proposals.

The state Department of Education announced Friday that it had given preliminary approval to the Excellence Charter School in Camden, an extension of the Mastery charter network out of Philadelphia, and the Link Community Charter School in Newark, the state’s second private school conversion.

Both are well-established organizations and continue the administration’s focus on schools with long track records. The application process was only for existing networks ready to open within the year, and was thus separate from a broader process available to all parties. These schools still need final approval in the summer before they open in the fall of 2014.

Still, the administration turned down a national charter network founded in Las Vegas that faced questions about its operations elsewhere, and also rejected a proposal for what would have been the first conversion of an existing district school to a charter.

The proposal from BRICK Academy, working with two district schools in Newark, comes as state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson seeks a controversial reorganization of the district, including new partnerships with charters.

Yesterday, state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf dismissed any suggestion that the department was playing it safe with new approvals, but said it was a continuing trend of approving only those proposals with the best chance for success.

“This pool was very limited, and it was meant to be a much more limited round,” he said of the expedited process. “But nevertheless, we continue to focus on quality over quantity.”

Cerf is leaving office at the end of this month, and he said the rigor of the charter application process and the work of the charter office in general were among his most significant accomplishments.

Gov. Chris Christie’s administration in his first term approved 31 new charters, while pulled the charter from or failed to renew another 10. Nevertheless, the number of approvals has been far more modest in the past couple of years as communities have pushed back against new charters opening.

“The thoughtfulness of the application process, the structured interviews we do, every part of the process, these are among our proudest accomplishments,” Cerf said yesterday.

The new approvals could have significant impacts on their respective communities. The Excellence Charter School in Camden proposed three new schools serving kindergarten to 12th grade and nearly 2,000 students.

Part of the Mastery network, which operates more than a dozen schools in Philadelphia, the Camden charter is part of a two-pronged effort that has Mastery planning another three elementary schools serving 2,000 more students under the state’s Urban Hope Act.

The Link Community Charter School would be the second private independent school in Newark that has moved to become a public charter school and gain the benefits of more consistent public funding. The Philip’s Academy Charter School, opening this year, was the first

The new Link Community Charter School, which opened its doors in 1969, would be a middle school serving nearly 300 students from Newark, East Orange, Orange, and Irvington.


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