Teacher Tenure Reform Bill Should be Readu for Gov. Chris Christie's Pen Next Week

June 23, 2012

 TRENTON — State officials are on the cusp of making sweeping changes to New Jersey’s teacher tenure system with a bill that enjoys rare, universal support from Democrats, Republicans and the state’s largest teachers union.

And as early as next week, the measure is likely to win Gov. Chris Christie’s signature.

The final version of legislation sponsored by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) was released by the Assembly Budget Committee in a 12-0 vote Friday — overcoming its last major hurdle after more than a year of negotiations — and could win final passage in the Legislature Monday.

"It was an intense process because we wanted to create a system that was fair, inclusive and that really created transformative change," Ruiz said. "When you move one piece, all the other components have to be adjusted so they can work as well. That’s why it took so long."

Earning and keeping tenure protections would become tougher for teachers and principals, who would face yearly evaluations based partly on improvement in students’ test scores. New teachers would be granted tenure after three years of favorable reviews, and any teacher regardless of seniority could be fired after two years of poor performance.

The changes would take effect in some districts this fall, and be implemented statewide by the following year.

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) had sponsored a competing proposal, but Friday he endorsed Ruiz’s plan and said her bill would get the job done with a few adjustments. Lawmakers say the bill (A3060/S1455) is expected to pass in the Assembly on Monday and head to Christie’s desk soon afterward.

Diegnan said disputes over losing tenure should be handled through arbitration instead of administrative law judges as Ruiz had proposed. His revisions are expected to be approved by the state Senate, which voted 39-0 on Thursday to pass Ruiz’s bill.

"Teresa and I have been working for months," he said. "My understanding is that the governor’s going to sign it, and that’s good news for everybody."

Few goals are more important to Christie than toughening the state’s 105-year-old tenure law, the first to be enacted in the country. Christie says many teachers abuse their job security, shortchanging students in poorly performing urban districts.

The governor had pushed hard to scrap seniority rights that guard the longest-serving teachers from layoffs. "It is time to end the system of ‘last in, first out,’ which protects some of the worst and penalizes some of the best," Christie said in a January speech.

But the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, fought to keep seniority in the final bill, and Ruiz acquiesced to secure the NJEA’s substantial support.

"We got unanimous support because everybody understood that there was change that needed to get done," Ruiz said, "for the profession, and for the children and the classroom."

A spokesman for Christie, Michael Drewniak, praised Ruiz Friday. He said the administration had collaborated on her proposal, and that the governor would have "more to say soon on the outcome."

Newark Mayor Cory Booker criticized Ruiz’s bill on Thursday for keeping seniority rights intact.