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6-3-15 State Borad of Educattion Meeting Today...A.C. Tenure System Complicates Layoffs

NJ Spotlight - Agenda: Common Core, Teacher Evaluations Take Center Stage…State Board of Education will take up hot-button topics at monthly meeting, along with more procedural items

John Mooney | June 3, 2015

 Date: Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Time: 10 a.m.

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June 3 Meeting Agenda for State Board of Education

Where: New Jersey Department of Education, 1st-floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton

What they are doing: The State Board of Education was thrown into the political fray when Gov. Chris Christie announced last month that his administration is looking to withdraw from the Common Core State Standards.

The board will hear first-hand from the state education commissioner about exactly what Christie’s announcement means and about the process ahead.

The board will also hear a presentation on the first year of the state’s new teacher-evaluation system. It was reported this week that 97 percent of the state’s teachers had been found to be “effective” or better.

And as if that wasn’t enough, a code proposal to revamp teacher education and preparation will take another big step forward.

Common Core comes home: A year after the state board reaffirmed its own support for the national standards, it may need to rethink that position since the governor who appointed a majority of the board is backing away from the Common Core standards.

Exactly what that means has been elusive since Christie’s announcement last Thursday, and state Education Commissioner David Hespe is slated to come before the board to explain the next steps. Board President Mark Biedron said yesterday he has not yet been told what happens next.

Quote: “I have yet to hear from the department as to what the plan is,” said Biedron, himself a Christie appointee from 2011. “We’ll certainly be having a conversation.”

Teacher training on slower track: An equally tough topic has been a vast set of new proposed code before the board dealing with how teachers are trained and supported.

Discussion of this issue began in the winter and has seen a number of iterations over the last few months. Still at issue is how teachers are trained in college or other programs before they get hired, as well as the rules for those new teachers once they are on the job. One proposal is to require a full year of clinical or student teaching before new teachers can enter the classroom full-time –a requirement that would not be an easy lift for college programs.

The process ahead: The code has now reached the formal proposal stage, a step that all but guarantees adoption, but Biedron said there may still be adjustments in the next three months.

On the discussion on teacher training and support: “I am very pleased with the collaborative process thus far,” Biedron said. “But are we complete yet? We’ll find out.”

Other business: The board is also taking up for the first time new code pertaining to bilingual education.

The meeting will also include an open session for public testimony -- and with all the debate and controversy in New Jersey’s education circles these days, there’s bond to be some political protests.

Newark protests: Among those testifying will advocates from Newark, including members of the local advisory board, who are seeking the ouster of state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson.

The board appoints the superintendents of New Jersey’s four state-operated systems. While imminent change is unlikely, the board’s position in Newark – the city where state control has generated the most controversy by far -- is no small matter


Press of Atlantic City  - Atlantic City schools' weird, twisted tenure system at heart of layoffs

Tuesday, June 2, 2015 10:38 pm

 DIANE D’AMICO Staff Writer

Why is a nontenured preschool teacher in the Atlantic City school district still employed when tenured teachers have been given layoff notices?

Why were secretaries with less seniority kept in their jobs?

The answers lie in a complex and nuanced seniority system that is based on state law, Department of Education code and an ongoing series of legal decisions on how those laws and code are administered.

And, yes, there just might also be some mistakes.

The issue of seniority is at the heart of a second round of layoffs in the Atlantic City district that were announced last week. While about 223 positions were eliminated, deciding which actual employees will lose their jobs depends on a complicated series of regulations that involve not just length of service, but also tenure protections, teaching certifications and bumping rights.

School district officials ran the seniority list nine times before they were confident enough to use it to begin identifying personnel for layoffs, state Department of Education monitor Gary McCartney said Tuesday. The district has about 900 employees and had no seniority list, which had to be created from scratch using personnel records.

“We’d find a mistake, change it and run it again,” McCartney said. “And we’re still not saying this is it.”

So far 147 nontenured personnel have lost their jobs, including teachers, aides, custodial, maintenance and security personnel. In addition, 32 tenured personnel received layoff notices and 38 more were bumped into different positions through seniority, according to information provided by the district and union officials.

Both the district and union officials have been inundated with questions from employees terminated in the RIF, or Reduction in Force, wondering how they were cut and whether there might be a mistake. Everyone else is still nervous that if there are mistakes, they could be next on the layoff list.

“It’s been very rough to have so many members affected, and they all want answers,” said Atlantic City Education Association President Marcia Genova.

Genova and New Jersey Education Association field representative Vince Perna said they would have liked more notice of the layoffs so they could have worked in conjunction with the district on the layoff process.

“Right now we are attempting to make sure no one is losing their job due to an error,” Perna said.

McCartney, who was appointed in mid-February, said they worked right up to statutory deadlines on the budget process, and he is meeting with Genova this week.

“I understand employees have questions and Marcia needs to explain it to h membership,” he said. “I can’t imagine they are just acquiescing. But here is where we can join hands with the union to bring forward anything that is inaccurate. We don’t want anyone wrongfully let go.”

Randy Kanter, of Califon Consultants in West Caldwell, which specializes in seniority issues, worked with Atlantic City to develop the seniority list using specialized software. He said while every district should keep an updated list, few actually do because the only time it’s really needed is when there is a large enough RIF to affect tenured employees.

“It is a very complicated process, and each person RIF’d can have a domino effect,” he said.

In the case of nontenured teachers keeping their jobs, the issue in Atlantic City may be nontenured teachers who have PreK-3 certifications versus tenured teachers with elementary K-5 certifications. A tenured elementary K-5 teacher cannot move into a preschool position unless they have two years of experience teaching preschool.

“These are the rules, good or bad,” Kanter said. “There are things people don’t think about until you get the (seniority) list.”

McCartney said secretaries in some departments have specialized skills required for the job.

“It’s not just what you’re called, it’s what you do,” he said.

Military service, leaves of absence, and working outside their certification can also affect a teacher’s seniority.

Genova and Perna said even the nontenured employees have the right to ask why they were let go, and it is going to take time to answer all questions. Genova said she hopes most issues will be resolved within the district.

Perna said if not, NJEA lawyers will represent union members in appeals to the Education Commissioner.

Genova said the union is considering other options to bring employees back, but are waiting to see the final layoff numbers. She said a pay freeze was not initially addressed because it would not have saved all the jobs, and retirements might also restore jobs.

Looking forward, all RIF’d employees are placed on a callback list and by law are given preference for any new openings. Kanter said he has seen situations where all RIF’d employees were brought back within a year as others retired or resigned.

McCartney said the 2016-17 budget will also be a challenge and one he plans to begin planning for in the fall. He said the district’s generous health benefits plan will be one of the first things he addresses and is an area where he believes money can be saved. The union contract also expires in June 2016, so negotiations will also come into play.

“There just wasn’t time to do everything this year,” McCartney said.

Contact: 609-272-7241 DDamico@pressofac.com  Twitter: @ACPressDamico

Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608

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