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6-19-12 Teacher Tenure and Higher Education Reorganization - In the News
Star Ledger - State Senate committee approves bill that links teacher tenure to performance

Asbury Park Press - Tenure reform wins backing of teachers "But one proponent, Kathleen Nugent, New Jersey director of Democrats for Education Reform, said ... the Garden State version a better chance of success because teacher would be more open to accepting it.“The implementation is more important than the legislation,” Nugent said. “If you’re forcing reforms on educators, you won’t have a partnership.”

NJ Spotlight - Two Years in the Making, Ruiz Tenure Reform Bill Inches Closer to Law…Proposed legislation draws accolades from both sides of the aisle

Bloomberg - New Jersey Bill on Dismissing Tenured Teachers Advances

Associated Press - Philadelphia Inquirer - Tighter teacher tenure measure advances

Philadelphia Inquirer - The bill to reorganize New Jersey's universities passes a Senate committee

Star Ledger - State Senate committee approves bill that links teacher tenure to performance

Published: Monday, June 18, 2012, 3:26 PM Updated: Monday, June 18, 2012, 7:17 PM

By Jeanette Rundquist/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — The first major change to New Jersey’s tenure law in a century, but one that leaves intact the practice of laying off teachers based on seniority, won unanimous backing today of a Senate committee.

After a lengthy hearing that included testimony from New Jersey Education Association President Barbara Keshishian, education advocates and parents, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee voted, 13-0, to send the bill to the full Senate for a vote.

Today’s vote means bills on the issue have won committee approval in both houses of the Legislature.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz, (D-Essex), who sponsored the Senate bill, said it was a compromise among lawmakers and "stakeholder," and was "elated" the measure passed.

"Compromise did take the course of this bill from one point to another, but compromise did not interfere with us accomplishing what will be today a historic vote," she said. "This will create a very fair way that will ensure every classroom has the best (teacher)."

The bill requires every school board to adopt a new teacher evaluation system with four rating categories, from "ineffective" to "highly effective." New teachers will earn tenure after four years if they complete a year of mentoring, then receive two annual ratings of "effective" or "highly effective" within a three-year span.

Student progress will be one of the measures used to gauge teacher effectiveness.

To keep tenure, teachers must continue to demonstrate effectiveness; after two "ineffective" ratings or one "ineffective" after a "partially effective" rating, tenure charges would be brought by the school superintendent. Tenure charges will then be handled by an arbitrator instead of an administrative law judge, which is the current system.

Also under the current system, once a teacher is granted tenure after three years, is it almost never taken away. And when tenure charges are brought, it can take years to resolve.

The New Jersey School Boards Association spoke most strongly against the bill, saying it would not end the practice of laying off teachers based on seniority, a practice known as "last in, first out." An earlier version of the bill did address "last in, first out."

"The war is on," Michael Vrancik, the association’s governmental relations director, said after testifying. "There’s more to fight."

Ruiz said the issue will be "at the forefront when continuing discussions."

Gov. Chris Christie had made elimination of seniority rights a major piece of his education reform agenda.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said today "we have been supportive of Senator Ruiz’s efforts on tenure reform and await the final bill."

The issue of tenure reform has been at the forefront since Christie became governor. Ruiz said she has spent nearly two years in ongoing discussions, drafts and re-drafts. The bill was amended numerous times.

Sangeeta Ranade, a Jersey City school board member who testified today — saying she was speaking as the mother of a public school child — called the bill "a gift to students and teachers alike."

Among the bill’s supporters is the state’s largest teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association. Union President Barbara Keshishian said the NJEA is pleased to support the measure: "It makes tenure harder to earn," she said.

She did suggest, however, that tenure reform should apply to "all public schools — including charter schools."

The American Federation of Teachers, Garden State Coalition of Schools, Democrats for Education Reform and New Jersey Chamber of Commerce also testified in favor of the Senate bill.

The Assembly education committee advanced a tenure bill last week.

Asbury Park Press - Tenure reform wins backing of teachers


"But one proponent, Kathleen Nugent, New Jersey director of Democrats for Education Reform, said ... the Garden State version a better chance of success because teacher would be more open to accepting it.“The implementation is more important than the legislation,” Nugent said. “If you’re forcing reforms on educators, you won’t have a partnership.”

5:51 AM, Jun 19, 2012 | by  Jason Method  @Press_JMethod


TRENTON — After 18 months of negotiation, a proposed law that would end teacher tenure as a largely automatic and careerlong right cleared an important hurdle with the blessing of the state’s teachers unions and bipartisan political support.

The bill represents a dramatic shift in a century-old practice by requiring teachers to be competent to receive and keep the job-protection rights. Still, it fell short of the goals set by Gov. Chris Christie, nor does it approach the wholesale reforms passed by some other states, such as Louisiana or Indiana.

“I vote for great teachers, I vote for great professionalism, and I vote that every child has the opportunity for greatness,” state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said as her bill sailed through the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

While the plan makes significant changes in granting and revoking tenure, seniority would still be the prime job-protection factor in the event of layoffs, keeping the “last in, first out” system.

Christie, a Republican who had dubbed 2011 as the “Year of Education Reform,” and acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf have long called for a system whereby only the best teachers would be retained during job cuts.

But it was that change that helped bring support from the New Jersey Education Association, American Federation of Teachers and other groups that had been resisting the tenure reform drive.

“We are pleased to support this legislation,” NJEA President Barbara Keshishian, who has frequently battled with Christie, told the Senate committee.

Keshishian said she was satisfied that the bill, if enacted, would keep teachers from being fired “on a whim as a result of a personality conflict with an administrator, or for political or other inappropriate reasons.”

But rank-and-file teachers remain skeptical of the reform measure, said Donna M. Chiera, the New Jersey head of the AFT, in an interview.

That’s because the complex teacher evaluation process remains, so far, as a pilot program in about a dozen school districts. Meanwhile, the state has adopted new curriculum standards and is developing new tests on which teachers will be graded.

“Teachers are not against (tenure reform). They’re fearful of it,” Chiera said. But, she added, the Ruiz bill is “fair for adults and good for kids.”

Ruiz’s bill must now be reconciled with an Assembly bill, offered by Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, which has less support and presents a lower bar for teachers to get and keep tenure. Diegnan’s bill also gives teachers a greater ability to challenge tenure charges.

The Diegnan bill passed on a party-line vote in the Assembly Education Committee last week. Both chambers would have to vote on a final bill before it is sent to Christie to sign.

Christie’s office issued a statement that praised Ruiz for her efforts but said the governor would await the final bill before he decides whether to support it.

Annual reviews

Both bills would require teachers to pass two annual reviews in the first four years to obtain tenure, but Ruiz’s bill would let a teacher be mentored only in their first year. Currently, teachers are automatically granted tenure after three years.

Both bills set up an arbitration process for teachers who face losing tenure because they failed to meet standards in their annual review, though each bill sets up a different mechanism for picking arbitrators.

Teachers who are stripped of tenure could be fired, or an arbitrator could decide to keep a teacher from progressing on the pay scale.

School principals and assistant principals would also face the potential loss of tenure in both bills.

Debra Bradley of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association complained that the state’s year-end standardized test results would count for too much under the new regimen.

“You could be a fabulous teacher, but that one test could sink you, even when we have kids from low-income families or that didn’t eat breakfast that morning,” she said.

The tenure reform effort was not nearly as sweeping as measures passed in some GOP-dominated states, where, for example, principals and superintendents have been given direct control over personnel decisions.

But one proponent, Kathleen Nugent, New Jersey director of Democrats for Education Reform, said in an interview that gave the Garden State version a better chance of success because teacher would be more open to accepting it.

“The implementation is more important than the legislation,” Nugent said. “If you’re forcing reforms on educators, you won’t have a partnership.”

Jason Method: 609-292-5158; jmethod@njpressmedia.com



NJ Spotlight - Two Years in the Making, Ruiz Tenure Reform Bill Inches Closer to Law…Proposed legislation draws accolades from both sides of the aisle

By John Mooney, June 19, 2012 in Education|1 Comment

Teacher tenure reform took a big step toward passage in the Legislature yesterday, as advocates across the spectrum lined up behind a Senate bill that some predicted could replace New Jersey’s century-old tenure law within the week.

It was a regular love-fest before the Senate budget committee for the bill crafted by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the Senate’s education chairman, who has been working on the proposal for the better part of two years.

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Support came from groups as disparate the New Jersey Education Association and the conservative New Jersey League of American Families.

Democratic committee members unanimously praised it, as did Republicans.

“We’re going to next send you to the Middle East to take on the peace process,” state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) told Ruiz.

That’s not to say passage in the Legislature is guaranteed. A competing Assembly bill sponsored by state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex) still stands ready for vote in that chamber, with some key differences from Ruiz’s bill.

While both bills would tie tenure directly to teacher evaluations, Diegnan’s bill wouldn’t go quite as far as Ruiz’s and would give teachers greater protections and grounds to appeal.

Gov. Chris Christie also has yet to say whether he would sign either bill, no sure bet given that neither measure deals with seniority rights for teachers, one of the core issues Christie has long said was a priority.

But the Republicans’ unanimous endorsement in the Senate committee yesterday, including some of its most conservative members, appeared to signal that the governor was willing to the support the measure.

And there was indication that the Assembly may move the measure in concert with Diegnan as well, especially with the NJEA not sounding like it would get in the way. The NJEA also supported Diegnan’s bill last week, and indicated the differences were relatively easy to bridge. Nonetheless, some Democratic leaders also said the union’s support yesterday provides cover for Democrats to get behind Ruiz’s bill.

Diegnan wasn’t ready to give up his points just yet, but he sounded conciliatory about merging his bill into the Assembly version of Ruiz’s, now being sponsored by state Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Essex).

“In deference to her, as she’s been working on this a long time,” Diegnan said in a telephone interview.

The Assemblyman, who chairs the education committee, said there were still some issues to resolve that he said he would not discuss publicly yet, but said he was confident agreement could be reached.

One of the biggest points of difference is the explicit language in Diegnan’s bill that would prohibit student test scores from being a determining factor in a teacher’s evaluation. Ruiz’s bill only speaks to “multiple measures” of student achievement being required.

“It has always been my goal to have one bill, and I still think we will,” Diegnan said last night.

There isn’t much time, but it appeared the Ruiz bill was now moving to full Senate vote on Thursday. The Assembly could take it up next week, before the Legislature leaves for its summer break.

The hearing yesterday wasn’t without a few concerns, although they appeared to deal with peripheral issues, as well as how the law would be implemented.

Leaders of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association raised a number of questions, including whether the state’s data system was yet up to the task of measuring student progress, one of the key pieces of a teacher’s evaluation.

“As data availability improves, we will be more confident about data use in evaluation, but until that time, we recommend language promoting the use of data in evaluation, but not permitting a single test score to be the determining factor in evaluation ratings,” read the organization’s testimony.

There is a dollar cost to the new system as well, as the bill’s summary made clear.

For instance, the new evaluation system that would be deployed in every district and is now being tested in a handful of schools could cost as much as $60 million statewide, the statement read.

The bill would also shift the cost of first-year mentoring of teachers back to the state, although it did not put a price tag on that.

Still, the comments were overwhelmingly positive yesterday, and it seemed at times that the testimony on the bill was as much about thanking the different legislators and stakeholders for their cooperation in the process.

“Compromise did take this bill from one point to another,” Ruiz said in an opening statement. “But compromise did not interfere with us accomplishing what will be today a historic vote on creating policy that will ensure that we have the best professionals in front of every classroom.”

Bloomberg - New Jersey Bill on Dismissing Tenured Teachers Advances

By Terrence Dopp - Jun 18, 2012 4:30 PM ET

A New Jersey Senate panel advanced changes to tenure laws that would make it easier for administrators to fire ineffective public-school teachers.

The measure, sponsored by Senator Teresa Ruiz, a Democrat from Newark who heads the Senate Education Committee, was approved unanimously today by the chamber’s budget panel. Governor Chris Christie, a 49-year-old Republican, has pushed for similar changes since last year.

“We have been supportive of Senator Ruiz’s efforts on tenure reform and will await the final bill,” Michael Drewniak, a Christie spokesman, said by e-mail.

Under the Ruiz measure, school districts could strip educators of tenure if they are deemed ineffective in two consecutive performance reviews. The bill would also lengthen to four years the time it would take to earn tenure.

“We are sending a great salute to the most important profession in New Jersey,” Ruiz said in Trenton. “As a person in my household who was the first to go to college, education becomes a crucial tool, the most important.”

Ruiz said the legislation would set common teaching standards statewide and would benefit students by ensuring they have effective instructors. The bill next heads to the full Senate. It must pass both legislative chambers to move to Christie’s desk for consideration.

The state’s biggest teachers’ union, the New JerseyEducation Association, supports the bill in its current form. President Barbara Keshishian cited the removal of a provision that would have ended basing job cuts on seniority, a change advocated by Christie.

To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton, New Jersey, at tdopp@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net.


Associated Press - Philadelphia Inquirer - Tighter teacher tenure measure advances

TRENTON — The idea of making tenure tougher for New Jersey teachers to get and easier to lose took a big leap forward Monday when a state Senate committee advanced a bill and Gov. Christie endorsed it.

Bills on the issue have won committee approval in both chambers of the state's Legislature in the last five days, with the support of the state's education-advocacy cottage industry.

The Senate bill was put together by Teresa Ruiz (D., Essex), who worked out the details with groups representing a variety of interests. A stream of those advocates, including officials of two teacher unions and a socially conservative group, urged passage of the bill in testimony before the budget committee, which approved it unanimously.

"After watching these disparate groups come up here in unanimity, I have a new assignment for you," Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) told Ruiz. "We're going to send you to the Middle East to take on the peace process."

Making it easier to fire low-performing teachers is a big issue for many advocates for education reform — and a cause that Christie has championed. But there are difficult issues. Among them: How do schools determine which teachers are ineffective? How can teachers be protected from being fired just because they disagree with their administrators?

Ruiz's bill would use an evaluation method, now being tested by the state, that employs state test results to determine part of a teacher's grade. And instead of having tenure charges handled through the courts, in a process that can last more than a year, they would be directed to arbitrators, who would be required to wrap up cases within three months.

While the education groups support her bill, several have complaints about pieces of it.

The New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association says it's a problem that only a limited number of grievances could be appealed. The New Jersey School Boards Association says arbitrators would lean toward the unions. The New Jersey Education Association wants it also to apply to educators at charter schools.

And some advocates, including Ruiz, would have preferred a bill that would have eliminated a key protection for teachers: the use of seniority, not performance, to determine who is let go in layoffs.

Christie often talks about wanting to change that. But he signaled Monday that he could accept the compromise. "We have been supportive of Sen. Ruiz's efforts on tenure reform and will await the final bill," his spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said in a statement.

While the issue has gained momentum in the Legislature after years of debate behind the scenes, it's not settled. There are differences in many of the details between Ruiz's bill and the one advanced last week by an Assembly committee. For instance, the Senate bill would require tenure charges to be filed against teachers who have poor ratings two years in a row. In the Assembly bill, they would not be required until three consecutive "ineffective" ratings.

Other measures that advanced in Trenton on Monday: • The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted, 7-3, to approve legislation that relaxes a proposed ban on the use of indoor tanning salons by teenagers under 18 that the Assembly approved last month. The Senate measure would ban indoor tanning by anyone under 16, while 16- and 17-year-olds could tan as long as a parent was present for purchase of the sessions. It would prohibit child customers from tanning on consecutive days. • The Assembly Appropriations Committee approved on a 9-0 vote a measure mandating that nonviolent drug-dependent offenders who would benefit from treatment be sentenced to the state's drug court program rather than prison. The measure, which heads to the full Assembly, phases in the statewide program over a five-year period, beginning with at least three counties in the first year. Participation in drug court is currently voluntary. • A measure making it easier to convict drivers of vehicular homicide or assault by auto when they kill or injure someone while using a cellphone moved a step closer to becoming law. The bill, approved unanimously by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, provides that the illegal use of a cellphone while driving can be considered driving recklessly, one factor in finding a person guilty of vehicular homicide or assault.


Philadelphia Inquirer - The bill to reorganize New Jersey's universities passes a Senate committee

TRENTON - Political support solidified behind the proposed reorganization of the state's higher education system Monday as proponents said costs would be negligible - no more than $40 million - thanks in part to a change to the plan.

That is far less than cost estimates of more than $1 billion by opponents of the plan.

The $40 million figure was revealed Monday night after a flurry of amendments to the bill to address concerns of North Jersey politicians, and of many unions that represent employees of Rutgers and the other entities involved in the overhaul.

The bill moved out of the Senate budget committee on a 12-0 vote with one abstention. It could face a full vote of the Senate Thursday, but some lawmakers said they had not fully digested all the details or dollar figures.

A "fiscal note" presented by two representatives from Gov. Christie's Department of Treasury, for example, included no total dollar figure for the cost of the reorganization, but projected millions in savings from consolidating services. In testimony, they offered few details despite repeated questions.

Christie supports the plan, and the bill is moving quickly toward passage. It already been approved unanimously by the Senate's Higher Education committee and now must be reviewed by the Assembly.

One key new amendment would delay implementation of the plan until July 2013, in time for the 2013-14 school year, and forbid layoffs of employees for the first year. The union representing the 30,000 workers that would be affected by the reorganization said it was now supportive.

"We negotiated with the sponsors for many weeks and got protections to services, workers, higher education, and based upon those protections we are supporting the bill," said Hetty Rosenstein, director of the Communications Workers of America union.

A source involved in the negotiations said the last holdouts - powerful North Jersey politicians - had now been given the concessions they needed. Among the amendments are protections for University Hospital, which serves the poor in Newark. Another change would add an Essex County representative to Rutgers' board of governors.

Still, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) has not publicly declared her support. Rutgers-Camden faculty and Sen. Ronald Rice (D., Essex) remain opposed.

"You're going to do what you want," Rice told his fellow senators, "but you need to do what is right."

Despite the amendments, the bill's framework is little changed from the original.

The bill would dismantle the state's medical school - the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey - and distribute most of its parts to Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine in Camden County would become part of Rowan University, which in turn would enter into an alliance with Rutgers-Camden.

Part of the controversy has centered on the refinancing cost to Rutgers if it loses a significant piece of property - its Camden campus. An analysis commissioned by Rutgers says that pulling the Camden campus out of the main campus, as planned, would lead to $155 million in refinancing costs.

An amendment to the bill essentially eliminates that cost, proponents said, by having the state guarantee the bonds. That would act, they said, as a fail-safe: If anything forces a refinancing, the amendment would nullify the separation of Rutgers-Camden from the main campus.

Still, Candace Straight, a member of the Rutgers board of governors who otherwise supports the overhaul, testified that she would vote "no" as of now because of her concerns about the bonds.

Meanwhile, Rutgers, along with its boards of governors and trustees, has retained a high-powered Washington law firm to advise it. Trustees have said that the bill risks violating Rutgers' legal contract with the state and could invite litigation.

Already, Straight said, deposits from new law students at Rutgers-Camden are down 50 percent from last year because of the controversy.

The state Treasury Department said in its "fiscal note" that the costs would be minimal because the plan would not create a new institution, just reshuffle existing schools and was thus akin to the simple renaming of a school, as when Glassboro State College became Rowan University.

It also said:

Savings in administrative functions would result after consolidation of the functions of the five UMDNJ campuses into its new entities.

There would be minor expenses related to merging personnel and payroll databases, issuing new ID cards, building new websites, and integrating technology. The universities would pick up the tab for this over several years.

Long-term savings would result through more efficient operating systems and combined services, and there would be new revenue in the form of research dollars and investments gained by consolidating the state's schools of higher education into two major research institutions.

Since much of UMDNJ would become part of Rutgers, and since Rutgers has a higher bond rating than UMDNJ, the takeover of UMDNJ's debt by Rutgers could save approximately $40 million.

Since the bill would draw Rowan and Rutgers-Camden into a near-merger, including a joint board to oversee the two schools, a new amendment would restrict one school from tapping into the other's endowment.

Sen. Nellie Pou (D., Passaic) abstained because of outstanding questions she had about costs. "I hope that that information comes forward in time before it gets to the final vote on the floor," she said.

Another bill, which also passed the Senate budget committee late Monday, has been used as a sweetener to those skeptical of the reorganization plan. It would put a referendum on the ballot in November for at least $750 million in new grants for capital projects at the state's colleges and universities.

Contact Matt Katz at 609-217-8355 or mkatz@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mattkatz00. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at www.philly.com/ChristieChronicles


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