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6-18-12 Education Issues in the News - Tenure bill, Outsourcing, Opportunity Scholarship Act
Star Ledger - N.J. Senate committee to discuss changes to teacher tenure "A bill that would overhaul the state's century-old teacher tenure law and link the job protection to annual performance evaluations for the first time will be considered today by lawmakers in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. The legislation (S1455) comes more than a year after state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) began researching the topic and meeting with education stakeholders..." (Note: GSCS is supportive of this bill)

Politickernj - Fuentes pushes Opportunity Scholarship Act

The Record - Englewood schools' outsourcing plan has other districts watching

Star Ledger - N.J. Senate committee to discuss changes to teacher tenure

Published: Monday, June 18, 2012, 6:22 AM Updated: Monday, June 18, 2012, 6:22 AM

By Jessica Calefati/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — A bill that would overhaul the state's century-old teacher tenure law and link the job protection to annual performance evaluations for the first time will be considered today by lawmakers in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

The legislation (S1455) comes more than a year after state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) began researching the topic and meeting with education stakeholders.

Last week, Ruiz announced amendments to the bill that eliminate a section that would have stripped teachers of their seniority rights when budget cuts require school districts to layoff staff.

Under current law, teachers with the fewest years of experience are always given pink slips before their veteran colleagues, but the practice that can force districts to eliminate some of their most talented young staff members. Ending this practice, which some call 'last in, first out,' has been a priority of Gov. Chris Christie.

The bill would also require all first year teachers to participate in a one year mentorship. To earn tenure, the bill would require teachers to earn positive evaluations two out of three years. Teachers who earn negative evaluations two out of three years would lose the job protection, according to the bill.

Ruiz and Christie have both said they hope the legislation will be signed into law by the end of the month. Another tenure reform bill, sponsored by state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) advanced through the Assembly Education Committee last week.



Politickernj - Fuentes pushes Opportunity Scholarship Act

By Minhaj Hassan | June 15th, 2012

TRENTON - After opponents of “fracking,” supporters of the Opportunity Scholarship Act probably had the second largest contingent representing one big issue during a raucous committee-filled Thursday at the Statehouse.

The issue of providing funds to students, mostly in inner cities, so they could attend other schools besides the public schools in their hometowns has struggled to get off the ground. At least legislatively.

Assemblyman Angel Fuentes, (D-5), of Camden, prime sponsor of the bill, A2830, said he has seen supporters calling for the bill to be passed on numerous occasions. He saw it again Thursday during a graduation at a Camden school. Despite making several concessions to keep the bill alive, he said it’s still an uphill battle to garner enough support.

Fuentes said he is still trying to convince more members of his own party to join him in support of the bill.

“I’m still reaching out to colleagues,” he said. “We’re not there yet, quite honestly.”

There has been progress, though, largely because he’s scaled down the most recent bill. The amount that would be given in tax credits to students has been substantially reduced. For students between grades kindergarten and 8, the amount would be $6,000 per student (down from $9,000 in the original draft), and $9,000 for high school students (the original amount was $12,000). The administration costs called for in the most recent version have been reduced from $15 million to $1 million.

Those changes, Fuentes said, have at least helped produce some converts. Right now he has about 18 Democrats on board. The Assembly currently has more than 40 members.

The program would be set up and target students in some of the most struggling urban school districts. They include Newark, Camden, Trenton, Passaic, Elizabeth, and Lakewood, among others. If implemented, the program could help as many as 20,000 students.

Businesses that set up these alternate schools would receive a matching tax credit from the state. The high price involved with providing those credits is where a lot of opposition to the bill comes from.

“This is a win-win for businesses,” Fuentes said in defense of the bill.

There is even an amendment included to devote some funds toward professional development.

Gov. Chris Christie frequently calls for supporting OSA, among his other education reform proposals. They include changing tenure and instituting merit pay.

Fuentes said he hopes OSA will come up for a vote before the Assembly and win passage. He wants to see the graduation rate improve in the struggling districts, particularly one in his own district, Camden, which saw some 450 dropouts last year.

“We’re talking about saving lives here.”

 The Record - Englewood schools' outsourcing plan has other districts watching

Sunday, 6-17-12Last Updated: Monday6-18-12, 12:11 am by Rebecca Baker Staff Writer

Englewood’s plan to save $2 million by outsourcing school secretaries and teaching assistants has reverberated throughout North Jersey, where education leaders are closely watching the district to see how it handles strong community and union opposition.

The city schools, which first privatized custodians 20 years ago, are seen as a bellwether for a rising tide of privatization as administrators grapple with ever-increasing costs for health care, pensions and special education at the same time state and federal funding is falling. The outcome in Englewood, a 3,000-student district made up largely of black and Hispanic students, could signal the fate of hundreds of school employees throughout the region in coming years.

“It’s going to be extremely interesting to see what comes out of Englewood,” said Albert Pecora, the superintendent of Wallington schools, which recently outsourced its night custodians. “If we get pushed into a corner, we’ll have to look at every possible way to save money.”

Nearly every school district in New Jersey hires private companies to perform some functions, according to state education officials, with transportation, food services and maintenance being the most common. Until recently, secretaries and teaching assistants were spared from the outsourcing trend, and no other North Jersey school district outsources both. In 2010, Bogota outsourced seven school secretaries along with custodians, while Glen Rock privatized custodians and 39 teaching assistants last year.

Bogota school board President Charles Severino said his district’s move to privatize was met with resistance.

“We had some packed meetings and accusations were flying around that it was personal and political, which was malarkey,” he said. “Believe me, nobody wanted to do it, but we were $800,000 in the hole.”

Severino said that in two years he has heard no complaints about the outsourced secretaries and only positive words from school officials. He said “grumblings” about the new janitors were similar to the complaints about earlier custodians who were district employees.

Michael Rinderknecht, the business administrator for Glen Rock schools, said outsourcing the professional assistants alone saved about $300,000. The district hired Mission One Educational Staffing Services — the same firm Englewood is considering for secretaries.

Glen Rock hired Aramark to provide custodians, at a savings of $638,000, Rinderknecht said. Most of the school custodians did not join Aramark and got jobs elsewhere or went on unemployment, he said.

The outsourcing of custodians and classroom aides in Glen Rock did not stir up the kind of controversy seen in Englewood. Glen Rock school officials last year blamed the unions’ refusal to renegotiate contracts for the decision to outsource staff.

Rinderknecht said the new teaching assistants have done a good job and “our buildings are cleaner than they have ever been in the past.” The savings led the district to keep its general fund tax levy the same in the 2012-13 budget.

“It’s a win-win not only for the school district but also for local taxpayers,” he said.

The New Jersey School Boards Association is one of the few groups to have gathered statistics on outsourcing. Only 40 percent of school districts in New Jersey responded to the group’s 2009 survey, but all said they had privatized one of their functions, including business operations, child study teams, therapy, security and technology.

A spokesman for the association said he knew of just one other school district in the state — a regional district in South Jersey — that outsources both secretaries and teaching assistants. A confidentiality clause prohibited the spokesman from naming the district.

Englewood’s plan to outsource secretaries is a “pretty new move,” said Joe Cheff, president of the Passaic County Education Association.

“First were the bus drivers, then cafeteria workers, then custodians,” he said. “There never seems to be enough.”

The backlash in Englewood was immediate when the district this month announced it planned to outsource secretaries and teaching assistants, which officials say would save $2 million a year and halve a projected $4 million deficit next school year. Hundreds of angry employees, residents and students attended two school board meetings. Dozens of middle-school students protested outside Janis E. Dismus Middle School before class last week. Signs supporting the employees have appeared in windows and on lawns all over the city.

School officials say they are out of options for new revenue. Federal and state funding has dried up, they said, and they can’t turn to local taxpayers, who are already frustrated with high tax bills. Those taxpayers are protected from sharp increases by a statewide 2 percent tax cap.

In 2010, Englewood voters rejected the proposed budget calling for a 4 percent tax hike. This year, property taxes funding schools rose only 1 percent, leaving the district with a shortfall for next year.

“We can’t tax our way out of this,” board President Stephen Brown said. “This isn’t a revenue issue. It’s an expense issue.”

Brown has insisted that the board is open to alternatives and has asked unions representing the teachers, secretaries and professional assistants to suggest other cost savings. All of their contracts expire on June 30.

Anita Shemesh, co-president of the Englewood Teachers Association, questioned the timing of the outsourcing proposal and the board’s decision to negotiate simultaneously with the unions and the private agencies.

“Some people might conclude that it’s a very clever tactic, a very clever negotiating tactic,” she said.

Shemesh said the board’s actions have left the district’s 24 secretaries and 66 full-time classroom assistants in a terrible position.

“It’s horrible, horrible to be in limbo like this,” she said. “Many of them have been traumatized.”

So traumatized, their union chief said, that dozens of teachers, classroom assistants and secretaries did not come to work June 8 — the district has called it an apparent sickout — the day after the board voted to begin negotiations with private staffing firms.

Liliana Saumet said her son, a seventh-grader at Englewood Middle School, is close to a school secretary, as are other students. She said the kids see that the secretaries and teaching assistants live in Englewood and are part of the community.

“The kids feel like they’re taking part of their family away from them,” she said.

Englewood school officials have backpedaled slightly since presenting the outsourcing proposal as the only viable option for dealing with the budget shortfall. The district now says everything is on the table, even formerly taboo measures as pay-for-play fees for sports, bigger class sizes and limited busing.

The bids from the two staffing companies in the running for the contracts show why outsourcing is attractive: the district saves money at the expense of the employees, who are either paid less or get no benefits.

For example, Mission One offered two billing plans to Englewood, one that would pay secretaries $150 a day and another paying $100 a day, without benefits. Entry-level school secretaries in Englewood earn $37,100 a year, or about $202 a day if they work 183 days a year.

Delta T pays $18.50 an hour to paraprofessionals, or $27,084 a year to those working an eight-hour day. Englewood’s teaching assistants make $35,168 with full benefits. The highest paid assistants make $54,903 with full benefits, according to district officials.

Passaic schools Superintendent Robert Holster said his district replaced 18 first-year classroom aides last year with private workers from Passaic County Educational Services. The district used the staffing service to fill additional vacancies and now has more than 30 private paraprofessionals in the schools.

Holster did not provide specific cost savings, but said outsourcing averted teacher layoffs.

“You’re getting two aides for the price of one,” he said. “You have to rethink how to make the dollar stretch.”

David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, which represents low-income children in New Jersey, said outsourcing remains a go-to option because there is scant information about its overall effectiveness.

“It’s not as if there’s been a lot of studies in the diminishment in the quality of services,” he said.

Sciarra said districts wouldn’t have to turn to outsourcing if state lawmakers gave schools what they need, noting the state has underfunded Englewood by more than $1 million.

“The real underlying problem is the Legislature’s failure to properly fund [education],” he said.

Email: bakerr@northjersey.com

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