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6-15-12 Tenure reform bills moving closer, State Budget count down, longer school days possible, moratorium on virtual charters
Star Ledger - Seniority not challenged in latest version of teacher tenure reform bill

NJ Spotlight – Competing Teacher Tenure Bills Move Forward…Now comes the tough part as lawmakers attempt to bridge the differing policies

Politickernj –Bill released to put a stop on "virtual" charter schools (A3105 Virtual Charter schools places 12 month “moratorium” on virtual charter schools and establishes Task Force to study)... GSCS supported this bill

Star Ledger - Longer school days in the lesson plan for some N.J. districts?

NJ Spotlight - Christie, Legislature on Collision Course to Government Shutdown…Fearing revenue shortfall, Democrats back off original tax cut plans, but may send Christie a millionaire’s tax

Star Ledger - Seniority not challenged in latest version of teacher tenure reform bill

Published: Friday, June 15, 2012, 6:25 AM Updated: Friday, June 15, 2012, 7:20 AM

By Jessica Calefati/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — A tenure reform bill set to be considered by legislators next week will no longer strip teachers of their seniority rights, a provision Gov. Chris Christie has said he considers a top education reform priority.

Under current law, teachers with the most years of experience are protected when budget cuts or declining enrollment force school districts to lay off staff.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz’s original bill (S1455), introduced earlier this year, set out to change this practice, which can force districts to fire some of their most promising young educators, but could not muster enough support from lawmakers to do so.

On Monday, Ruiz will introduce amendments to her tenure reform bill that will eliminate sections of the legislation dealing with seniority rights.

Though the legislation will link teacher tenure to regular evaluations for the first time, the fact that the bill with not deal with the seniority issue has some education advocates calling the amended bill “a disappointment.”

“There is a significant piece here that really overhauls a century-old policy,” said Ruiz, defending the amendments. “Something I wanted had to be taken off the table so I could put forth a bill that would get passed and a bill that would get signed.”

Gov. Chris Christie has made elimination of seniority rights a major platform in his agenda to reform education.

In his State of the State address this year, Christie called seniority a practice that “protects some of the worst and penalizes some of the best” teachers.

A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie said he commends Ruiz for working to update the state’s century-old tenure law, but had no comment on the proposed amendments to the tenure bill.

“Senator Ruiz has been the most involved on this issue,” Michael Drewniak said. “We look forward to seeing a final version of the bill.”

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, fought hard to prevent seniority from being included in tenure reform legislation, said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the union. Seniority rights are vital, he said, because they protect teachers with hefty salaries from being the first eliminated when reductions in force are required.

“You don’t want to create a perverse incentive for districts to fire older teachers,” Baker said. “We have had very productive discussions with all the parties who are interested in this issue.”

Eliminating teachers’ seniority rights, which some call ‘last in, first out,’ has long been a goal of the New Jersey School Boards Association. Spokesman Frank Belluscio said tenure reform legislation that does not take up seniority is a significant “disappointment.”

“Administrators should have the ability to recommend the retention of the best performing teachers, and that doesn’t always correlate to the length of employment,” Belluscio said. “This is not a change we agree with.”

The seniority issue is most relevant in large school districts like Newark, which lose hundreds of students each year and therefore need fewer teachers.

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson said at a meeting with state education officials this week that the district will be forced to fire some its most talented educators when roughly 100 teachers are laid off at the end of this school year.

In an era of declining enrollment, you have to be able to make hiring and downsizing decisions based on performance,” Anderson said. “I’ve done my part to paint a picture on where we are and why we badly need a better statute.”

NJ Spotlight – Competing Teacher Tenure Bills Move Forward…Now comes the tough part as lawmakers attempt to bridge the differing policies

By John Mooney, June 15, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

Tenure reform in New Jersey saw a lot of action yesterday, on a couple of fronts. The question now is whether any of them will get over the finish line.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chairman of the Senate education committee, yesterday released her long-awaited revisions to her tenure bill, taking bold and surprising strides to bring a consensus between disparate factions, Republican and Democrat alike.

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The biggest was a decision to give up -- at least for now -- her bid to phase out seniority rights for teachers, or what is termed the “last in, first out” (LIFO) rule in layoffs.

 “The whole process was I would propose a concept, and conversations would create compromise, and that is precisely what has occurred,” Ruiz said yesterday in releasing the language in the late afternoon.

“It still is a big issue, but it’s a question of whether we can we get a bill that has significant policy change, one that gets posted, one that gets support, and one that gets considered for passage into law,” she said. “Or do I sit and do nothing at all?”

Meanwhile, a separate, more moderate bill sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), the Assembly’s education chairman, also progressed through his committee yesterday, albeit with only Democratic support.

This one never would have ended seniority rights in the first place, but it does include some of Ruiz’s provisions for directly linking tenure to annual evaluations of teacher performance. And notably, it had the public backing of the New Jersey Education Association, the powerful teachers union, in a step almost unthinkable a couple of years ago.

 “All of us realize that every teacher who performs before a classroom does not necessarily do the best job they can, and this bill puts in place a system where those individuals would no longer be in front of the classroom,” Diegnan said.

Both are up against the clock, with each sponsor saying they hope to reach agreement -- including with each other -- before the end of the month and the Legislature’s summer break. Gov. Chris Christie has already said tenure reform is one of his top priorities for the rest of the month, along with a tax cut and a state budget.

“I don’t think we differ that much,” said Diegnan after his hearing of his and Ruiz’s bill.

But even for all the talk of progress and consensus, significant gaps remains between the bills. The huge question looms to whether Christie will sign a bill that is a far cry from what he first proposed more than a year ago, one that not only ended LIFO but had explicit connections between tenure and student achievement, including state test scores.

Both bills make reference to student performance as being one of the factors in evaluations, but not as explicitly as Christie’s trumpeted. Diegnan’s bill said it could not be a final determining factor.

Christie’s office was silent on the matter yesterday, and acting Commissioner Chris Cerf also would not comment. The commissioner’s office and even Cerf himself were involved in the talks with Ruiz, but yesterday a spokeswoman said the office would not speak on pending legislation.

The next step is a Senate budget committee on Monday, where Ruiz said she will formally introduce her new bill and hope to see passage toward a full Senate vote.

The budget committee chairman, state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), yesterday said it was “good to go” but there were also a couple of issues to resolve. He did not detail those issues, but said one involved addressing concerns in Newark.

That could mean a few things, but a big issue faced in that district is the expanding pool of teachers who are being squeezed out by the consolidation and closing of schools and what to do with them.

Without an end to seniority, they cannot be let go before less experienced teachers. And even with a new system of tying tenure to teacher evaluations, under both Ruiz and Diegnan’s bills, they would need at least two years of poor evaluations before they would lose their tenure. Newark union leaders said a vast majority of the teachers in the excess pool have had satisfactory evaluations.

Nonetheless, Newark superintendent Cami Anderson said in a presentation to the State Board of Education this week that passage of Ruiz’s bill in its previous version was critical to her changes in the district. Her communications director yesterday declined any further comment about the new bill.

Ruiz, a Newark resident, acknowledged her bill could slow down the trimming of teachers in her hometown district. “But this is about creating a policy for the entire state of New Jersey,” she said.

That is just one issue to resolve, however. As both Ruiz and Diegnan’s bills advanced yesterday, they also highlighted a host of other differences as well.

One significant point of agreement is a streamlined process for hearing tenure charges, something that all parties have said is critical to ease the current difficulty of removing weak teachers.

Under both bills, that process would now go to state arbitrators and would have time limits for the cases to be resolved. Still, while Diegnan’s bill would use arbitrators with the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission, Ruiz’s would set up a whole new bank of arbitrators selected by the various stakeholders, albeit with the governor’s administration setting the guidelines.

In addition, Diegnan would only call for teachers to be brought up on tenure charges after two years of evaluations as “ineffective,” the very lowest of four tiers. Ruiz’s bill would apply the rule to two straight years of ratings as “ineffective” or “partially effective,” the bottom two tiers.

And there was even something as fundamental as the effective date of the law, with Ruiz calling for it to be effective in 2013-14, while Diegnan would wait until 2014-15, with the possibility of extending it a year after that.

Ruiz said she did not want to directly compare her bill with Diegnan’s, but said that she hoped any differences could be bridged in the next two weeks or an opportunity might be lost to make what she called “huge changes in public policy.”

Ruiz and her staff have been working “16 hour days” to negotiate this deal, she said, and her Statehouse office has been booked with meetings for much of the last week.

“We need one policy change,” she said. “We can’t have two different versions.”


Politickernj - Bill released to put a stop on "virtual" charter schools (A3105 Virtual Charter schools places 12 month “moratorium” on virtual charter schools and establishes Task Force to study)

By Minhaj Hassan | June 14th, 2012 - 3:20pm

TRENTON - The Assembly Education Committee released, along party lines, a bill that would place a moratorium on so-called virtual , or online, charter schools.

The bill, A3105, would also create a task force focusing on such schools.

The three Republicans on the committee - David Wolfe, Scott Rumana and Betty Lou DeCroce - voted against the bill

Wolfe, (R-10), of Brick, said the mission of some virtual schools is to appeal to dropouts and passing the bill would be a disservice.

"By this legislation, they will be killed," Wolfe said. "We're eliminating an opportunity for some students...to continue their education."

Rumana said it wouldn't be prudent without having a dialogue about a potential legal battle that could arise, given that five virtual schools have already been approved by the state Education Department.

But Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, (D-15), of Trenton, and Chairman Patrick Diegnan, (D-17), of South Plainfield said it is incumbent that taxpayers' money is spent on public education.

Assemblyman Paul Moriority, (D-4), said he believes there should be a moratorium in order to set parameters. However, he added that people should be more open-minded about different ways students learn material, adding that learning from computers isn't entirely a bad thing.

Supporters of the bill, including the New Jersey Education Association and a grassroots group known as Save Our Schools, supported the bill, saying such schools cannot adequately replace the quality of education provided by brick-and-mortar charter schools. They added that such schools could stifle social development and divert public funds, while enriching private corporations that head them.

Officials from Save Our Schools said some four virtual schools are anticipated to open in Newark.

NJEA said virtual charter schools are basically a backdoor move to skirt accountability.



Star Ledger - Longer school days in the lesson plan for some N.J. districts?

Published: Thursday, June 14, 2012, 3:38 PM Updated: Thursday, June 14, 2012, 6:12 PM

By Matt Friedman/Statehouse BureauThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — Enjoy the upcoming summer vaction, kids. Your next one could be shorter, if some lawmakers in Trenton get their way.

The Assembly Education Committee today approved a bill that would provide resources for as many as 25 school districts to add more days to the school year — and more hours to the school day.

The goal, sponsors say, is to give students — especially inner-city kids — a leg up.

New Jersey public schools are required to have a minimum of 180 days for instruction, and the average school day is six and a half hours long.

"Much has been said about the benefits of longer instructional time, especially on low-income students whose families may not be able to afford private tutoring or after school activities," said Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-Hudson), a sponsor of the bill (A1391). "This program will help us determine whether additional time in the classroom really makes a difference."

Under a three-year pilot program, corporations would pay the extra cost for the longer instruction time and would be reimbursed with tax credits. Schools would have to show a majority of their staff and parents support the change.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has voiced support for more instruction time, saying at his 2009 confirmation hearing "our school day is too short, our week is too short, our year is too short."

A 2007 study in Massachusetts found lengthening the school day by 25 percent coincided with higher standardized test scores. Other scholars contend extending time in school will accomplish little without improving how that time is spent.

Jennifer Keyes-Maloney, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Principals & Supervisors Association, said her group "conceptually supports" the bill but has reservations "associated with how the actual program will be funded and the impact on state revenues."

The tax credits for companies that support the program would be capped at $24 million for the first year, $48 million for the second and $72 million for the third.

The bill’s prospects are uncertain. Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, said the governor will review the bill if it gets through the Legislature. Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association teacher’s union, said his organization does not yet have a position.

Brian Zychowski, superintendent of North Brunswick schools, said the current schedule is too short for the curriculum, and further widens the gap between rich students who can afford extra curricular help and poor students who can’t. "It’s a race against the clock, and learning’s not about a race," he said.

Charles Maranzano, superintendent of Hopatcong schools in Sussex County, said the school year is based on an outdated agrarian calendar "designed in essence to release students for the summer months for the purpose of farming." He said he would love to have students in school 220 days a year but took issue with the funding mechanism, saying a school district like his was unlikely to find a corporation to pay for the program.

"My sense of concern is we talk a good game in Trenton and there isn’t any substance of it," he said. "You want to produce better results, give me 220 days with children. But darn it, fund me."


NJ Spotlight - Christie, Legislature on Collision Course to Government Shutdown…Fearing revenue shortfall, Democrats back off original tax cut plans, but may send Christie a millionaire’s tax

By Mark J. Magyar, June 15, 2012 in Budget|

If Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic legislators stick to their guns, New Jersey could be headed to its second state government shutdown in six years on July 1.

Christie has vowed not to negotiate any state budget with the Democratic-controlled Legislature that does not include a tax cut.

But Democratic legislative leaders made it clear yesterday that the only tax cut Christie might get before June 30 would be a direct property tax cut funded by an $800 million income tax increase on millionaires, and that might not happen because Democrats are divided over whether to give Christie the opportunity to veto a millionaire’s tax for the third year in a row.

What Democrats agree on is that the $183 million Christie has earmarked for an income tax cut will be set aside in the budget in a special surplus account dedicated to property tax relief. The Legislature would appropriate these funds only if the Republican governor is on track to hit his aggressive $32.02 billion revenue projection. That decision would not be made until December or later, Democratic legislative leaders said, depriving Christie of a tax cut to trumpet in August at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, where he could be a leading candidate for the GOP vice-presidential nomination.

Christie reiterated Wednesday at a town meeting in Atlantic County that he would “not negotiate a budget with the state Legislature unless they cut your taxes” and noted that he has asked his Cabinet for contingency plans for a government shutdown in the event of a budget impasse.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) dismissed Christie’s threat yesterday as just “something he said at a town hall” and added that there would “not be a government shutdown, at least from the Legislature.” “We’re approving his budget, with his revenue numbers, with his $183 million set aside for a tax cut if he hits his revenue projections,” Sarlo stressed. “If the numbers aren’t there, he won’t get it.”

A Nebulous Promise

Whether Christie would accept the nebulous promise of a future tax cut based on Democratic certification that his revenue numbers are on target is questionable.

“It’s absurd,” Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Union) said. “In the end, what the Democrats are saying is that they don’t trust the governor’s revenue numbers -- even though they’re going to vote for a budget based on those numbers -- and yet they’re challenging the governor’s constitutional right to certify revenues by holding back appropriation of those dollars until they say the money is there.”

Kean, the son of former Gov. Thomas Kean, said such an infringement on gubernatorial powers would be unprecedented.

What would not be unprecedented would be yet another Democratic bill for a millionaire’s tax landing on Christie’s desk.

Senate and Assembly Democratic leaders presented to their caucuses yesterday a new property tax relief plan pushed by Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) that would use $800 million raised through the millionaire’s tax to fund approximately a $1,000 increase in direct property tax credits for those who meet the current homestead eligibility limits of $150,000 for senior citizens and $75,000 for non-seniors.

The switch from a new property tax credit on state income tax returns to an increase in direct property tax credits underscored the insistence of Greenwald and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) that their tax cut plans were designed for property tax relief – and were not simply different versions of an income tax cut, as Christie has repeatedly insisted.

The Assembly Democratic caucus enthusiastically embraced the idea of forcing Christie to veto a $1,000 property tax cut for lower- and middle-income homeowners to be paid for entirely by millionaires -- a plan that regularly wins support in state public opinion polls and a winning tactic in the view of some Democratic strategists.“He can either do what’s right for middle-class families in New Jersey or he can go to Tampa and beat the drums for trickle-down economics [by vetoing the millionaire’s tax],” Greenwald said. “I don’t care what happens in Tampa, I care about New Jersey.”

However, Senate Democrats, while supportive of the millionaire’s tax as a policy, balked at the idea of giving Christie the opportunity to veto yet another Democratic tax increase.

“Do you give the governor a loaded gun that he can shoot back at you?” one Senate Democratic insider asked after the three-hour caucus yesterday. Senate Democrats, he said, are worried that the popular governor would use his liberal conditional veto powers to completely rewrite the bill and send back to the Democratic-controlled Legislature an unacceptable alternative tax cut bill that he could hammer them for failing to approve.

Greenwald said the Senate Democratic leadership had assured him that Senate Democrats would support the millionaire’s tax, but it will clearly take at least another caucus meeting to win Senate support for the income tax increase. That meeting presumably will have to take place on or prior to next Thursday, when the Senate and Assembly budget committees are tentatively scheduled to vote out both the budget and millionaire’s tax bills so that they can be considered by the full Senate and Assembly on June 25.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

The split in the caucuses over whether to approve the millionaire’s tax mirrors the original disagreement between Sweeney, who said it would be futile to include the millionaire’s tax in his original tax cut proposal because Christie would simply veto it, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) and Greenwald, who made the millionaire’s tax a centerpiece of their plans.

While the Senate and Assembly Democratic caucuses remain split over the millionaire’s tax, it is clear that the tentative deal reached by Christie and Sweeney on a bipartisan tax cut is dead. Under that deal, Christie agreed to support Sweeney’s plan for a 10 percent property tax credit up to $1,000 on income taxes if Sweeney would raise his income limit from $250,000 to $400,000. Greenwald yesterday also shelved his original plan for a 20 percent property tax credit on income taxes up to $2,000 for those earning up to $250,000, in favor of a revised millionaire’s tax to fund direct property tax relief.

Both the Sweeney and Greenwald plans were originally put together as alternatives to Christie’s announcement in his State of the State speech that he would seek a 10 percent across-the-board income tax that would have overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy. Like Christie’s plan, the Sweeney and Greenwald proposals relied upon $1.4 billion in anticipated revenue growth by Fiscal Year 2016 for all or part of their funding.

Yesterday, Democratic legislative leaders officially ended their “arms race” with Christie to enact tax cuts funded by future revenue growth.

Democratic legislators in both caucuses agreed almost unanimously that the $700 million shortfall in Fiscal Year 2012 and 2013 revenues acknowledged by Christie -- and the $1.4 billion gap projected by David Rosen, budget director for the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services -- are proof that New Jersey cannot afford to make tax cuts based on future revenue growth until they see state revenues coming in on schedule.

Instead, they agreed to set aside the $183 million Christie planned to use for tax cuts in a special fund to be allocated to property tax relief in sometime over the upcoming year, but not before December.

“If the Democrats stick to their position to set aside that money as part of the surplus, that would be the most responsible thing they could do,’’ said David Rousseau, a former Democratic state treasurer who is serving as a budget analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective. Rousseau has previously criticized the Democratic leaders for following Christie’s lead in proposing tax cuts based on optimistic assumptions of future revenue growth.

New Jersey Comeback

Christie has stuck to his campaign-style narrative that his “New Jersey Comeback” will generate such robust economic growth that state revenues will climb by 7.3 percent next year – the most optimistic growth rate envisioned by any state government in the nation.

However, the Christie administration’s failure to meet anticipated revenue projections over the past three months has undercut the governor’s argument, as did New Jersey’s 47th-place ranking in economic growth during 2011 -- the only state in the Northeast whose Gross Domestic Product actually declined last year.

The Christie administration yesterday pointed to the state’s addition of 17,600 jobs during the month of May -- a figure that represents 25 percent of all jobs created in the nation during what proved to be a dismal employment month -- as proof that the state is on the right track economically.

“No matter how loud they scream and yell in order to stop a tax cut, there is no evidence that the outlook for our economy is anything but positive,” Christie’s press office said in a release announcing the new jobs figures.

Christie reemphasized the point during a quick Statehouse news conference. “All of the rooting against the New Jersey Comeback, all of the poor-mouthing that’s going on down the hall purely for political purposes,” he insisted, is “nothing but pure partisan politics.”

Christie shrugged off the increase in the state’s unemployment rate from 9.1 percent to 9.2 percent as proof that New Jerseyans are optimistic and are reentering the workforce.

But Greenwald noted that the 9.2 percent unemployment rate remains a full percentage point higher than the national average. While some of the new jobs are from the opening of the new Revel casino in Atlantic City, many of the new jobs are seasonal.

Greenwald said Christie is mistaken if he thinks he can “build an economy on beach tags and ice cream cones.”


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