Arbitrators Rule Against Newark’s Anderson in Two More Tenure Cases

John Mooney | November 25, 2014 | Education
Superintendent taken to task for using two years of teacher evaluations when only one is allowed

Credit: NJTV
Newark schools Superintendent Cami Anderson
It’s not quite a trend yet, but two more state-appointed arbitrators have sided with Newark teachers brought up on tenure charges by district superintendent Cami Anderson, claiming in both cases that her administration did not follow the proper process.

Following the first such decision against the district last month, the arbitrator in the case of teacher Neil Thomas found that Anderson again improperly cited two years of unsatisfactory evaluations in the tenure charges, when the TEACHNJ law allowing such determinations only went into full effect last year.

“In the arbitrator’s opinion, the evaluation procedure set forth [in TEACHNJ] … has not been satisfied in the instant case,” wrote arbitrator Robert Simmelkjaer in the Thomas decision.

“The statutory language, along with implementing regulations, which were not in full force and effect during 2012-13 … convince the arbitrator that the charges are ‘insufficient’ and should be dismissed.”

In the second case of teacher Charles Coleman, arbitrator David Gregory found that Coleman’s principal had been inconsistent in her evaluation of the teacher, giving him low numerical scores but a “glowing narrative … regarding [his] actual classroom instruction.”

“Charging the respondent with inefficiency within days of this narrative is the quintessence of arbitrary and capricious action,” Gregory wrote.

The decisions, dated last week and posted by the state Department of Education yesterday, were a setback for Anderson, who has sought in the past year to use the powers under the new law to remove dozens of teachers her administration has deemed ineffective.

She has not lost all such cases, winning two of them this past spring. But the latest decisions were a specific rebuke of her strategy of citing two years of unsatisfactory ratings. It is the legal argument that is at the center of at least a dozen cases, said the Newark Teachers Union, which represented the teachers.

Anderson’s office had no further comment on the latest decisions yesterday.

The Christie administration sought to back Anderson after the first decision last month, issuing what it called a “clarification” to the district that said the law did not preclude such tenure charges in the first year for districts that had gone through a pilot year before the law was enacted.

Assistant commissioner Peter Shulman said the department did not intend “prohibition on school districts to use the 2012 – 2013 evaluation dated to make personal decisions, such as the decision to renew or nonrenew a nontenured teacher or the decision to bring a tenure charge of inefficiency against a tenured teacher.”

But Simmelkjaer, the arbitrator in the Thomas case, rejected Shulman’s interpretation. Further, Simmelkjaer said he found the department’s new guidance “problematic and inconsistent with previous communications from NJDOE” that said the pilot year evaluations were not to have job consequences attached to them.