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Hearings on Teacher Tenure Reform Delayed -- For Now

Assembly and Senate committees wary to move as Christie warns he will veto ‘water-downed’ tenure legislation.

The drama over a teacher tenure reform in New Jersey continues to twist and turn, as legislators jockey for position and Gov. Chris Christie makes clear his opinion, if not his precise intentions.

Much of the latest guessing arose this week with the sudden postponement of education committee meetings on Monday in both the Senate and Assembly.

Each were expected to take up their respective versions of bills that would revamp how teachers gain and lose tenure protections, but the committee chairmen indicated yesterday they were not quite ready to take the next step.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chairwoman of the state’s Senate education committee, said she was still working through the final details of her bill that is expected to be the best chance for bipartisan consensus on tenure reform.

“It’s going to happen this year, at least in my committee it will,” Ruiz said yesterday.

Meanwhile, state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly education committee, said he was preparing a separate bill. “I’d rather have something that has as much consensus and input as possible than putting something in early,” he said.

Ruiz said her committee was expected to meet in the next week, while Diegnan said he likely would not file his new bill until his committee meets again in June.

Still, both said they were hopeful to see their bills get through committee before the legislature takes its summer break at the end of June, and they were putting their best face on the prospect of agreement.

“I’m hopeful that we will have consensus with Sen. Ruiz’s bill,” Diegnan said.

The comments come on the heels of Gov. Chris Christie’s insistence last week that the legislature move on a tenure reform bill in the next month and a half, and warning that he would not support a bill that did not include his core principles.

“I will tell you one thing, a lot of discussion is going on in Trenton,” Christie said at a town hall meeting in Freehold. “And I want to make one thing very clear to the legislature: Do not send me watered-down, BS tenure reform. If you send me weak tenure reform, I will veto it and send it right back to you.”

The issues remain around the extent of the changes, with the two chambers appearing to remain far apart.

Ruiz has proposed a bill that would demand teachers only gain tenure after three years of positive evaluations and lose it after two years of unsatisfactory ratings.

Diegnan’s bill remains focused on streamlining the process for removing ineffective teachers, a position pushed by the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s dominant teacher’s union.

In response to Christie’s comments, Ruiz was defiant yesterday that her bill would represent real changes in how tenure is granted and taken away.

“I don’t intend on putting a BS tenure bill forward,” she said. “This will not be symbolic, but true tenure reform.”

Diegnan, too, said he was willing to compromise -- but only so far.

“I think everyone in their heart is in the right place on this,” he said. “They want to do what is best for the children.“

But asked if that would include a system that granted and removed tenure based on a rolling system of evaluations, Diegnan said he would not go so far.

“I still support tenure and the consequences of doing away with it entirely would be disastrous,” he said. “I haven’t changed my opinion on that. “

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