Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent of Newark schools, has dramatically ratcheted up her war on the district’s employee unions by proposing to lay off possibly hundreds of tenured teachers without regard to their seniority rights. Anderson indicated she would ask outgoing state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf to grant her what is called a “waiver or equivalency,” a little known and little used provision in state regulations that permits school districts to ignore long-standing rules in order to achieve a legitimate purpose. That could happen as quickly as March 5.
If, as expected, Cerf grants the request, Anderson—facing serious fiscal problems after hiring many new teachers since her appointment three years ago—would be able to keep newly hired teachers while firing teachers with extensive experience.
“We are seeking an equivalency…to consider quality along with years of service while making decisions about ‘right-sizing’ our workforce,” Anderson wrote in a final version of her controversial “One Newark” plan. Although she has previously spoken about “right-sizing” the teaching force, this is the first time she revealed she would try to ignore seniority rules in laying off teachers.
NPS officials declined to answer questions about Anderson’s efforts.
“This is the most serious attack on tenure and due process that schools in the state have ever seen,’’ said Joseph Del Grosso, the president of the Newark Teac hers Union (NTU).
“She is totally ignoring not just the idea of tenure but the changes made in the tenure law just enacted. It’s an end run around the new law and frustrates its provisions.”
The new tenure law, pushed through at the height of Gov. Chris Christie’s anti-teacher and anti-union initiatives, gives teachers time to try to overcome poor evaluations in order to avoid the elimination of their tenure.
Not only does the “waiver or equivalency” provision ignore the new tenure law but it also trashes decades-old seniority rules that would allow teachers with seniority to “bump” more junior teachers in the face of what schools call “RIFS”—or reductions in force.
“This is really going to hurt teachers with 15 or 20 years of service, teachers at the top of the salary guide, who will be let go while Anderson keeps younger, less well-paid teachers,’’ Del Grosso said. “Some of these teachers will be let go just before they become eligible for retirement so this will really devastate them for the rest of their lives.’’
Chief among Anderson’s targets apparently are the so-called “employees without placement”—or hundreds of school employees who, for a variety of reasons, have not been assigned to specific schools. Many were caught up in so-called “renew” schools where employees must reapply and be rehired–or not–every year.
Del Grosso said these teachers will be especially vulnerable because they do not have permanent assignments now and are not evaluated. They cannot, the union president said, rely on the new tenure law that is linked to evaluations.
The “waiver or equivalency” provision of the new regulations applies to all administrative rules, not just those governing seniority in public schools. It was initially established in 1995 under former Republican Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, allegedly as a means of deregulating state control over a wide range of services. The provision was readopted in 2011 and made easier to invoke.
Del Grosso said he is unaware of any previous effort by any other school district to eliminate seniority rights on so grand a scale.
He said he believed Anderson, a former executive director of Teach for America (TFA), is invoking the rule to protect the jobs of many TFA graduates hired by the Newark schools. Under the program, recent college graduates with six weeks of training can be hired to teach, usually in inner-city schools. Although many drop out after an initial two-year term, they do provide schools with cheap, if untrained, labor.
“Her TFA people will be protected,” Del Grosso said.
Anderson’s “One Newark” will close neighborhood schools and vastly expand enrollment at privately-run charter schools. It is consistent with her previous efforts to favor charter schools over traditional neighborhood public schools.
The plan has provoked stiff opposition from many community members and their cause has been picked by Ras Baraka, a mayoral candidate. His rival, Shavar Jeffries, has supported Anderson.
The controversy has become heated, especially after Anderson suspended five school principals after they criticized her plan and banned a parent leader from his children’s school for posting notices of a meeting that was viewed as critical of “One Newark.”
Earlier this week, a special legislative inquiry began into the way Anderson has handled “One Newark.” State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Esssex), the co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools, has said he would ask for subpoena power to conduct a full investigation of the plan.
Del Gross said he expected opposition to the plan when the Newark school board meets Feb. 25 and the state Board of Education meets March 5.
He also said the union would seek a court injunction against the planned layoffs.