TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie would not say today whether he will sign the tenure reform bill that passed the Legislature on Monday. He said he has to decide whether the bill has enough of the things he wanted to see.
The bill, which would extend the required time on the job to achieve tenure to four years and implement a review and rating system for educators was passed unanimously in both houses of the legislature.
In a rare display of bi-partisanship, Republicans and Democrats alike showered praise on Sen. Teresa Ruiz, (D-29), Newark, for her work on a tenure bill that makes some crucial changes to the long-standing practice of providing job security to educators.
But, other key elements in the education reform agenda, especially one called for by Gov. Chris Christie, were left unaddressed in the bill that awaits his possible signature.
For example, the practice of considering seniority as the sole determinant of whether a teacher remains employed or not—more commonly referred to as last in first out – was not addressed in the bill, Christie said Tuesday at a townhall in Brick, Ocean County.
“A lot of the younger and most enthusiastic teachers get taken out,” he said. “This decision should be based on merit.”
He didn’t say whether he will sign Ruiz’s bill, saying he has to consider if “there are enough good things… . I have to make that decision.”
He promised, though, he will not give up the fight do away with LIFO, since it “doesn’t take into account who’s best qualified.”
New Jersey School Board Association Executive Director Marie Bilik agreed.
“School leaders need to consider a teacher’s job performance when recommending who would retain a position,” Bilik said. “They don’t have the authority to do that now, and they still won’t have it under the current version of S1455.”
The N.J. Education Association, the largest teachers union, lobbied hard on the issue of seniority over merit and supports the version of the bill eventually passed.
Another issue that the school boards association has concerns about is the makeup of the list of arbitrators who would decide the outcome of tenure cases. The NJSBA said union members would have an edge because of the larger representation they would have. Of the 25 members, 16 of them will come from either the New Jersey Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers.
“Under this structure, there is almost a two-out-of-three chance that a union-identified arbitrator will hear a tenure case,” the NJSBA said. “The association has proposed an amendment requiring that, for every tenure case, there be a balanced pool of management- and union-identified arbitrators from which to choose.”
Ruiz was not immediately available for comment.