By David Cruz
It has taken more than a year of meetings, consultations, debates and arguments, but New Jersey’s century-old teacher tenure policy appears close to a major overhaul. The lengthy process produced a rarity in Trenton, near unanimity.
Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz said she was tired today. After more than a year of meetings with a variety of stakeholders, including teachers, administrators and fellow lawmakers, the Essex County Democrat is close to ushering a major change to the state’s tenure system through the legislature, a task that, given the entrenched interests, was as monumental as it sounds.
“I tried to convey through the Senate Education Committee that this was not about providing a tool to eliminate under-performing professionals,” she said this morning. “This was about putting support mechanisms in place that will identify the best, help those who are in need of help and create a streamlined process that would identify people who perhaps have to choose a different career path.”
It’s that conciliatory tone that brought the teacher’s union to the table, despite a plan that weakens protections for its membership, lengthens the pre-tenure period to four years and tightens the evaluation criteria.
“This bill makes it harder to earn tenure and makes it easier to remove tenured teachers who are no longer effective,” said Barbara Keshishian, President of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).
But Keshishian says the bill also provides mentoring for teachers who are shown to need help, which fosters a more cooperative tone, a far cry from Gov. Christie’s harsh anti-NJEA rhetoric.
“It provides better support for teachers entering the profession and fair due process protection for those who have earned tenure but are subsequently identified as ineffective,” said Keshishian.
Keshishian was equally supportive of an Assembly Education Committee tenure bill put up by Democrat Patrick Diegnan last week. That bill, which appears to have less support than Ruiz’s, differs slightly on evaluation processes and criteria. Both would protect seniority, however –- the last hired, first fired policy that Gov. Christie has railed against. Diegnan wasn’t available to talk about his bill today and Ruiz said she didn’t want to talk about the differences between the two or where she thought a compromise could be reached. A vote on the Senate version could come this Thursday.
“The next step is to have conversations between both houses, figure out where there are places to meet, discuss further and get a final product that can get voted on the floor and something that the governor can consider for signage,” said Ruiz.
The one thing these two bills do have in common is that neither of them is exactly what the governor asked for. The governor’s office says he’ll wait until there’s a final bill before they determine whether or not he will support it.