Anderson Tries Again to Base Layoffs on Performance First, Then Seniority

John Mooney | April 1, 2015 | Education
Newark superintendent’s request for a waiver from state statutes fell on deaf ears last year – and that appears likely to again

Newark schools Superintendent Cami Anderson
It was a long shot then, and it’s a long shot now.

Newark schools Superintendent Cami Anderson has for the second year asked the Christie administration for a waiver – technically called an “equivalency” – from state regulations that require teachers be laid off based solely on seniority.

The request is a central part of her 2015-16 budget proposal, which Anderson’s staff said could include layoffs of as many as 300 teachers.

But little has changed from last year, when Anderson submitted the very same application verbatim.

That request last year drew silence, at least publicly, from the administration that appointed her, and Anderson’s argument this year appears to be much of the same — including that it’s likely to meet the same protests and opposition.

But the state’s political landscape has changed, with a new education commissioner in place and Gov. Chris Christie proving anything but predictable amid talk that his eyes are as much on the White House as the Statehouse.

And the stakes are clearly higher this year, with Anderson proposing a budget for 2015-16 that hinges on reduced staffing.

[related]Other districts are also walking budget tightropes and will surely be closely watching the outcome of the Newark request.

Most prominent are the state-operated Camden schools, where an announced reorganization of the district makes layoffs are a real possibility. Last year, the Camden district laid off more than 200 teachers — and more could come.

Still, Anderson’s argument is likely to prove a tough sell for state Education Commissioner David Hespe, who will consider the waiver request in the context of statute that clearly says that seniority trumps all else in the case of “reductions in force,” under the long-established practice of “last in, first out” or LIFO.

Anderson’s argument, then and now, is that the state commissioner has discretion when it comes to determining what defines seniority. In her application, the superintendent has proposed that teachers be judged first on their performance as gauged through evaluations, and then on seniority after that.

For instance, a non-tenured teacher – one with three years or less of experience – who is rated “effective” or “highly effective” could conceivably be spared before a tenured teacher rated as “ineffective” or “partially effective.”

In a presentation to the district’s local advisory board this week, Anderson’s staff said this would spare the district’s neediest schools from losing their best teachers. They said that without considering performance, two-thirds of the district’s schools would lose at least a fifth of their teachers gauged as “effective” or better. If performance is considered, officials said, just one in seven schools would lose that many satisfactory teachers.

“Conducting a layoff under current regulations would have disastrous impacts on our schools,” read the presentation.