For the New Jersey School Boards Association's Frank Belluscio, the measure is just a step, not the renewable tenure contracts his group has pushed for decades. "This is all well and good in the context of the current lifetime system of tenure," he said.
If they work as intended, the changes would make ousting underperforming teachers faster and less costly.
The unions want that just as much as school districts do.
Teachers and their representatives sound most enthusiastic about the bill. "This bill is not much different than the way the system is supposed to work," Stephanie Tarr, a history teacher at Cedar Creek High School in Egg Harbor City and an activist NJEA member, wrote in an e-mail. "Make no mistake: Teachers, and their unions, know who the bad teachers are."
A key concern
But leaders of the NJEA and the American Federation of Teachers said they would not endorse a bill that stripped seniority when it came to layoffs.
That was one of the last major changes Ruiz made before she unveiled her bill in mid-June.
But the seniority issue remains a major concern, particularly for Christie, who has become a nationally prominent voice on education reform.
He says that when districts lay off educators, they should keep the best ones, not just the most experienced.
Christie, like many education experts, says the quality of teaching makes a huge difference in how students perform. And he says he does not believe lesser teachers should keep their jobs if better ones are laid off.
But to unions, preserving seniority is a key to the deal.
Get rid of it, said Donna Chiera, president of the state branch of the American Federation of Teachers, and layoffs would be made for other reasons. "It opens the door to a lot of inequities: You're young, enthusiastic, cheaper, you're the right nationality," she said. "Seniority right now is a matter of fairness."
She said she would be willing to accept a merit-based system if she knew schools had an evaluation system that would objectively sort out effective and ineffective teachers.
Until the last few years, the debate in New Jersey about how teacher layoffs should be carried out was largely theoretical. "Typically, education is a growth field," said Nat Bender, a state spokesman for the AFT.
But tough times economically - along with a new state law capping property tax increases - have put school districts in budget crunches. In 2010 and 2011, layoffs were widespread.
And there are expected to be more in years to come, particularly in Newark and other urban districts where students are leaving traditional public schools to attend charter schools, leaving behind more teachers than are needed.