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Fine Print: Christie Vetoes S-2163, Public School Arbitration Bill

Governor’s action represents second legislative defeat within a month for NJEA.

christie veto
Credit: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen

What it is: Gov. Chris Christie yesterday vetoed a bill passed this spring in the Senate and Assembly that would have given nonteaching staff in public schools certain job protections, including the right to binding arbitration in disciplinary matters.

What it means: The veto was expected, and it is not likely to see an override attempt, given that it didn’t have the necessary votes in either the Assembly or the Senate. But it certainly is a rebuke to the New Jersey Education Association, which lobbied hard for the bill and saw it progress farther than ever before, including support from several prominent Republicans. It is Christie’s second veto in a month of NJEA-backed employee rights bills, with a third one pending.

The bill: Sponsored by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), Senate Bill 2163 would have given noncertified staff in state, county or local public schools, including teacher aides, custodians and bus drivers, the right to arbitration in all disciplinary matters, ranging from reprimands to terminations. It would have superseded any contractual obligations.

Lesniak’s reasoning: Lesniak said yesterday that he sought to protect these employees from what he called “overly political” school boards, including the one in his hometown of Elizabeth. “We just want to give these professional workers, janitorial staff, attendance workers the same rights in these cases as have teachers,” he said. “It is shameful that he wouldn’t protect school employees from discrimination and retribution from boards of education.”

Christie’s reasoning: The governor in his veto message invoked the recent passage of a new teacher tenure law that ties teachers’ job protections to ongoing evaluations of their and their students’ performance. “The result was a thoughtful balance of arbitration rights and enhanced accountability,” he said.

This is no tenure law: “This bill does not strike a similar careful compromise,” Christie continued in the veto message. “This bill expands arbitration procedures and tenure-like protections to noncertified staff without any matching performance measures or assurance of cost-efficiency. Indeed, this bill has the potential to impose burdensome and expensive administrative procedures on every school district, diverting resources from our students, teachers, and classrooms.”

School boards applaud: The veto was greeted with praise from the state’s school boards association and its executive director, Lawrence Feinsod. “This bill would have undermined the advances made in employee accountability through recent initiatives,” said Feinsod. “We thank the Governor for recognizing the potential negative impact of S-2163 on school districts and the taxpayers who support them.”

The NJEA boos: “All we were asking for was some measure of fairness and basic rights to those who work in our schools,” said Ginger Gold Schnitzer, the NJEA’s chief lobbyist. “And knowing now that we can get some Republican support and get this through the Legislature, if we just had a different governor, this would have been law.”

Two down, one to go: The veto yesterday follows Christie’s veto in late June of a bill that would have restricted schools and municipalities in how they could privatize local services. There is one more bill to go to his desk, this one giving public employees in schools the right to 90-day notice in case of a privatizing move. The school boards association also opposes this bill. But Schitzer of the NJEA was holding out hope. “Just because this one was vetoed, we’re not counting the next one out yet,” she said.

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