NJEA blasts Newark’s Anderson, vows fight to save tenure

 

NJEA's Wendell Steinhauer
NJEA’s Wendell Steinhauer

The president of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union, last night blasted state-appointed Newark school superintendent Cami Anderson for creating a “climate of hostility and opposition” in the city, deliberately attempting to break the law protecting tenure, using Newark children to experiment with unproven ideas, and presiding over the “disgrace” of letting crumbling buildings go unrepaired.  Wendell Steinhauer voted to fight Anderson’s attempt to break teachers’ seniority rights to keep and  hire new teachers.

“NJEA will oppose your “equivalency request” at every turn,” Steinhauer wrote, referring to the technical term for trying to bypass seniority regulations. “It is illegal, and it will destroy the careers and futures of hundreds of teachers who are caught up in a struggle that they did not create, and by which they certainly should not be victimized.”

The letter, delivered to Anderson last night, uses extraordinarily harsh language to depict the state regime in Newark—and represents an unusual decision by the statewide union to come to the support of the Newark Teachers Union, an affiliate of the rival American Federation of Teachers (AFT), AFL-CIO. The NJEA represents school nurses in Newark; teachers are represented by the NTU.

The union’s intervention also projects on to a statewide stage what had often been seen as a narrow issue involving only Newark and the state regime there. The NJEA represents teachers in the other takeover districts of Jersey City, Paterson, and Camden.

Steinhauer, in effect, warned Anderson—and, indirectly, Gov. Chris Christie—that any effort to break tenure in Newark, a state-operated district since 1995, would be opposed by all teachers throughout New Jersey. The NTU also has promised to oppose Anderson’s efforts to have seniority rights of tenured teachers set aside. Steinauer told Anderson:

“The time has long passed for avoiding the harsh truth behind the actions being perpetrated in Newark by the state.  They are using Newark as a laboratory for the closure of public schools, and the handing over of the state resources needed to fund them to less accountable parties.  That is an undeniable and obvious fact.”

This site first reported Anderson’s attempt to break seniority Saturday and then followed up ydsterday with the revelation that the district may try to lay off up to 700 teachers but still insist on hiring new teachers, an unknown number from Teach for America (TFA), who will be paid far less than the fired instructors and have less experience and training. An Anderson spokesman insisted TFA would be used only for specialized areas. Anderson is a former TFA executive director. One TFA official called my account “fear-mongering” but the Newark Public Schools has yet to deny the story–nor to provide actual numbers of the number of planned layoffs and new hires. Another site suggested Anderson is prepared to lay off 1,000 teachers–nearly a third of the city’s teaching staff.

“It is disingenuous at best to suggest that new college graduates with minimal training in education, no matter how motivated, possess the skills and knowledge necessary to teach bilingual and special education to students in a distressed urban district,” he said.

Steinhauer repeatedly noted that the state has controlled the Newark district for nearly 20 years and so is responsible for the poor condition of the city schools. If poor teachers have been retained, he said, the fault lies with state administrators. Anderson was hired in 2011, but the state took control in 1995.

The NJEA president noted many schools are in poor repair—despite the state’s holding back of billions of dollars in construction funds from public schools available through the state’s School Development Authority (SDA).

“The SDA is currently sitting on billions of dollars in school modernization and construction funding while thousands of Newark students attend more than 80 schools desperately awaiting that funding to repair or replace some physical plants that were built shortly after the Civil War.   That is a disgrace, and it is time for the public and the media to speak out loudly about it.”

Anderson has indicated many of the teachers facing dismissal are so-called “educators without placement sites,” (EWPS). This category of employees was created by Anderson herself after she allowed individual principals to “renew” some schools by letting go their entire staffs and then rehiring new teachers.

Because those teachers had tenure, they had to be kept on the payroll. They did not necessarily have “ineffective” ratings—some only received positive evaluations–but the principals wanted to hire other staff. Anderson also said she would try to fire teachers who received “ineffective” ratings—jumping the gun on a new tenure law that allows tenure to be broken if teachers receive repeated poor evaluations.

“Given that the State of New Jersey has been responsible for running Newark’s schools for nearly 20 years, whose responsibility is it that hundreds of allegedly ineffective teachers are still being kept on the payroll for employment that is never going to come their way?” Steinhauer asked.

Anderson has argued that following the newly revised detenuring process would take too long and be too expensive. Steinhauer rejected the contention, reminding her that NJEA joined with the Christi administration to help rewrote the tenure law. The union president blamed Anderson for creating the conditions she now wants to solve by violating the law:

“You must know that your request for “equivalency” is a violation of state law.  Both the dismissal process for removing ineffective teachers, and the right of veteran teachers to be protected from just this kind of selective reduction-in-force are codified in state statute; the first under the TeachNJ Act, and the latter under the statute governing regulations promulgated by the State Board of Education.  Any attempt to circumvent those regulations is a violation of law, and any effort to change them must be done so in the full light of public hearings and discussion.

“I find it ironic, to say the least, that you are claiming that in order to effect cost savings, you must violate state laws that you say are standing in the way of allowing you to address the current NPS staffing surplus.  That surplus was willfully created by the State of New Jersey, which manages the Newark Public Schools, through the creation of a large cadre of EWPS’s and the rapid expansion of charter schools, which have drained the city’s public schools of both students and resources.  Now, you are claiming you and your state-operated district must be exempt from the law in order to solve the problems created by the state’s failure to implement the very laws that could have prevented this situation.  Has the state really failed so badly in Newark that the law should no longer apply there?  Tenure laws and due process exist to protect our schools from exactly that sort of administrative misconduct and incompetence.”

Anderson is expected to discuss her plans to close schools and cut staff tomorrow at a regular monthly meeting the Newark school  board. At the last board meeting, she stormed away after an audience member made a reference to her child.

The text of the letter follows:

February 24, 2014

 

Cami Anderson, Superintendent

Newark Public Schools

2 Cedar St

Newark, NJ 07102

 

Dear Ms. Anderson,

 

I am writing to you on behalf of the members of the Newark Teachers Association (NTA) and their 200,000 fellow NJEA members, who share my deep concern over the educational climate in Newark.

 

Just last week, NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan testified before a hearing held by the Legislative Black Caucus at Newark City Hall.  She expressed NJEA’s opposition to the “One Newark” plan, citing in particular its deliberate disregard of legitimate community concerns and interests.  She acknowledged that change may be necessary in Newark, but that it must be intelligent, respectful change, representing the interests of Newark citizens, parents, students, teachers, school staff, school administration, and elected officials.  Unfortunately, your actions have failed to advance such change, and have, instead, created a climate of hostility and opposition among all groups of stakeholders.

 

Now, the Newark community is being asked to concur with your “Equivalency Request” – a proposal to lay off hundreds of experienced teachers and replace half of them with untested Teach for America graduates with no sustained classroom experience.  Your spokesperson said your goal is to hire teachers who are qualified to teach “hard-to-staff subject areas, like bilingual and special education.”  It is disingenuous at best to suggest that new college graduates with minimal training in education, no matter how motivated, possess the skills and knowledge necessary to teach bilingual and special education to students in a distressed urban district.

Given that the State of New Jersey has been responsible for running Newark’s schools for nearly 20 years, whose responsibility is it that hundreds of allegedly ineffective teachers are still being kept on the payroll for employment that is never going to come their way?

A large portion of the proposed layoffs would apparently come from the ranks of the “Educators Without Placement Sites” (EWPS) – teachers who apparently are not deemed effective enough to teach in Newark’s classrooms.

 

I reject out of hand your assertion in your “Overview of the Equivalency Request” that the streamlined tenure law, enacted in August of 2012, is too “lengthy and expensive to address NPS’s urgent fiscal issues.”   Is it your position that you could not, in the course of two years, seek the dismissal of teachers deemed to be ineffective?  The new law was specifically written – in a collaborative effort involving NJEA, Commissioner Cerf, key legislators, and many other educational stakeholders – to make the dismissal of an ineffective teacher far less time-consuming and expensive.  Your assertion that “each tenure case costs between $50K and $200K in legal fees” is patently untrue, given that dismissal cases that do go to appeal are heard within 90 days by an arbitrator in a hearing that lasts no more than days, rather than the weeks, months, or years that were too often the case under the prior law.  Dismissals cost a small fraction of what you suggest, and you must know that.

 

But that assertion does provide a window into what the “Equivalency Request” is really all about.  You are either unwilling or unable to work within the law and its streamlined process (a process which guarantees every teacher a fair, but expeditious hearing,) and are primarily focused on “NPS’s urgent fiscal issues,” with no regard for the law.

 

You must know that your request for “equivalency” is a violation of state law.  Both the dismissal process for removing ineffective teachers, and the right of veteran teachers to be protected from just this kind of selective reduction-in-force are codified in state statute; the first under the TeachNJ act, and the latter under the statute governing regulations promulgated by the State Board of Education.  Any attempt to circumvent those regulations is a violation of law, and any effort to change them must be done so in the full light of public hearings and discussion.

 

I find it ironic, to say the least, that you are claiming that in order to effect cost savings, you must violate state laws that you say are standing in the way of allowing you to address the current NPS staffing surplus.  That surplus was willfully created by the State of New Jersey, which manages the Newark Public Schools, through the creation of a large cadre of EWPS’s and the rapid expansion of charter schools, which have drained the city’s public schools of both students and resources.  Now, you are claiming you and your state-operated district must be exempt from the law in order to solve the problems created by the state’s failure to implement the very laws that could have prevented this situation.  Has the state really failed so badly in Newark that the law should no longer apply there?  Tenure laws and due process exist to protect our schools from exactly that sort of administrative misconduct and incompetence.

 

The time has long passed for avoiding the harsh truth behind the actions being perpetrated in Newark by the state.  They are using Newark as a laboratory for the closure of public schools, and the handing over of the state resources needed to fund them to less accountable parties.  That is an undeniable and obvious fact.

 

The SDA is currently sitting on billions of dollars in school modernization and construction funding, while thousands of Newark students attend more than 80 schools desperately awaiting that funding to repair or replace some physical plants that were built shortly after the Civil War.   That is a disgrace, and it is time for the public and the media to speak out loudly about it.

 

NJEA will oppose your “equivalency request” at every turn.  It is illegal, and it will destroy the careers and futures of hundreds of teachers who are caught up in a struggle that they did not create, and by which they certainly should not be victimized.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

 

Wendell Steinhauer, President

New Jersey Education Association

 

cc:           Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, President, Board of Education, Newark Public Schools

Joseph Del Grosso, President, Newark Teachers Union

Joyce McCree, President, Newark Teachers Association

22 comments

  1. Elizabeth

    If this evil woman manages to get away with this…..EVERY TEACHER IN NJ NEEDS TO WALK OUT INN SOLIDARITY WITH NEWARK!!!! IF IT CAN HAPPEN TO THEM IT WILL HAPPEN IN JERSEY CITY, PATTERSON, TRENTON, CAMDEN etc. Breaking the law is UNACCEPTABLE!!!!

  2. Dan Staples

    Way to tell it like it is! Every teacher in NJ needs to pay attention and get involved in this fight when called upon!

  3. Richard

    Unfortunately, Cami will have the upper hand in this. Many other states already got rid of tenure and New Jersey is soon to follow. Public schools will be replaced with charter schools and everything will be privately run. It is doomed to happen and I have a feeling it will come to pass, soon. Now is not a good time to be a teacher.

    Bob Braun: I certainly hope you are wrong but I suspect you may be right. I have the same wishes for the newspaper industry–that it will come back, thrive, and stop being celebrity watchers and shillers for people like Chris Christie. But, like you, I am not hopeful.

    • ellen rosner

      I disagree Richard. I think now is a great time to be a teacher. And a great time to be a fighter. What better way to model good citizenship for our children than to fight for public education. Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy. Yes it is a hard struggle to overcome the forces of evil. And there are no guarantees. But, sir, you are calling for retreat and we have not yet engaged the opposition. I say – there are 277,000 people in Newark. If even 1% came out to say NO to privatization, you’d see the Christie forces beat a fast retreat.

  4. Barbara Foster Abdur-Razzaq

    Anderson’s spokesman insisted TFA would be used only for specialized areas….wth is “specialized areas”?
    When you begin to tamper with one’s livelihood in an already fragile economy you are fostering the term “going postal”! Anderson is already treading on “shakey grounds”!

  5. Teacher Mom

    Bravo NJEA. They may not directly represent Newark teachers, but I’m glad they understand that if Newark goes down, we are all next. I’m supporting Newark teachers 100%!!

  6. Pat Valese

    BRAVO! Thank God the NJEA has finally stepped up to fend off the destruction of public schooling in NJ, first & foremost in Newark. This calculated plot has been secretly waged since the first day of Christie’s
    administration. All the ‘Christiecrats’ in Essex county and the power bosses across the state eagerly await the outcome of the One Newark
    conspiracy. How vulnerable the state-run districts are with Christie at the helm, and yet Humpty-Dumpty seems to be in the middle of a great fall due to his own insatiable tyranny and greed And thank God for that,
    otherwise the emperor would still be wearing his bi-partisan clothes and we wouldn’t be able to see the whole naked truth. So now it’s up to us – NOW is the moment to act – everyone of us, every middle-class hard-working union member, every teacher, every parent should understand what’s at stake and stand with the parents and teachers of Newark to demand the immediate removal of Cami Anderson. Cerf is definitely going to approve her ‘Equivalency’ request – right before he jumps ship.

    • ellen rosner

      Yes! to everything Pat said. Note this from the article: “The letter…represents an unusual decision by the statewide union to come to the support of the Newark Teachers Union, an affiliate of the rival American Federation of Teachers (AFT)…
      The union’s intervention also projects on to a statewide stage what had often been seen as a narrow issue involving only Newark and the state regime there. The NJEA represents teachers in the other takeover districts of Jersey City, Paterson, and Camden.”

      We MUST overcome differences and realize we are all in the same kettle. Where goes Newark so goes the nation.

  7. Mr. Outside

    The equivalency is the keystone in the troubling arch that is Cami’s vault of reform. Cami’s NPS is buttressed by a snake pit of very, very, well funded non-profits including New Leaders For New Schools, Teach For America, Newark Charter School Fund, Youth build Newark, and The Foundation For Newark’s Future just to name a few.

    Union busting, while a very obvious effect Cami’s plans us not the goal. The goal is to recreate the field of education; to turn it into a fully realized market. The EWOS pool is full of affiliated employees who happen to be principals, vice principals, and teachers.

    Of the underwriters bankrolling Cami’s agenda, New Leaders for New Schools supplies corporate indoctrinated recruits for leadership positions as Principals a la The TFA process. A cohort of recruits undergoes an accelerated training regimen followed by a year-long apprenticeship alongside an actual principal. These principals typically replace EWPS principals as well as principals of schools targeted for closure. Teach For America supplies the teaching workforce who also replace EWPSS, and teachers from closed schools. Each of the original eight renew schools for example are staffed by approximately 50% TFA recruits. Subsequently, each of those schools is labeled “falling behind” according to Cami’s own One Newark application. Newark Charter School Fund’s significant trust, distributed in the form of grants, supplements staffing throughout the district among charter schools and hybrids where NPS’ general fund fall short– again, often hiring TFA recruits. The Foundation For Newark’s Future, in partnership with other foundations with vested interests in Newark subsidize everything from the now-famous algorithm used in One Newark, to TFA, and New Leader staffing “fees.”

    They are using Newark as a laboratory for both untested practices in education, and unsound as well as unethical practices business.

  8. Michael Fiorillo

    New Jersey teachers, whatever you do, keep Randi Weingarten out of your state, lest you want these greedheads to succeed.

  9. Educator

    Since Mrs. Anderson is “driven by data,” would it be appropriate to ask her to present the data for the NPS under her watch? In the 2010-2011 school year (year prior to Mrs. Anderson’s arrival) the data (per the NJDOE website) for the NPS is:

    English Language Arts: 46% proficient or advanced proficient
    Math: 55.2% proficient of advanced proficient

    1. What is the data from the most recent school year?
    2. Have the test scores in Newark gone up in ELA and Math over the course of Mrs. Anderson’s tenure?
    3. Have the test scores in Newark gone down in ELA and Math over the course of Mrs. Anderson’s tenure?
    4. Has their been no change in test scores?

    If one was truly “driven by data” that would be a fair question to ask. I suspect the data for NPS has gone down over the course of Mrs. Anderson’s tenure simply because we have not heard her say it has gone up. I think it the test scores had risen, we would have received a press release indicating such.

    Assuming the data is negative (decreasing test scores), would it be fair to ask Mrs. Anderson:

    1. How she would rate herself as a Superintendent (using the 1-2-3-4 scale).
    2. If the test scores have decreased, why would the Chris’ (Cerf and Christie) single her out as being effective?
    What measure(s) are they using for their analysis?
    3. Mr. Cerf is a Broad Academy graduate and he truly believes that data is everything and that NJASK scores can be used to effectively rate teachers and principals.

  10. Robert Langdon

    Get rid of seniority and pay the same salary to all once the first five years teaching are completed. End LIFO and replace with LENE for Low Evaluation No Employment just the way it is for most of us. We have to end this detriment to good performance because of time in grade which has a high price and protection because it has nothing to do with performance and results in FIFO, First In First Out because of costs. We need to fairly value performance in a job without the salary leave factor influencing the decision. We can also pay for good performance as is done in all jobs that want to keep gapped plovers. Tenure should be state wide so there is mobility in where one can work. If the anti union people want good teaching then reward those with that exceptional talent.

  11. DuBose

    Remember Hitler and his treatment of the Jewish people? Dosn’t it look and feel an awful lot like Christie’s treatment of ALL Public School Teachers? Mmmm, what do you suppose a Public School Teacher did to him? Whatever slight it was (imagined or real), has created a MONSTER…and we all know the damage Hitler did THINKING he was right, remember, Hitler did not start with consentration camps. Cami is just one of Hitlers, oops, I mean Christie’s pawns. A follower is always fanatical in their actions to please their leader. Don’t hate, just protect yourself and do what you must do to win the war ” BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY”, that they started.

  12. Pingback: News Roundup & Open Thread for Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 - United Americans
  13. raudel perez

    It is obvious what the governor of N.J is trying to. His only interest in Newark’s puplic schools is to bring his so call chatter schools.

  14. Elena

    I would like the stats on the TFA teachers already teaching/having taught in Newark. Because I keep reading that they will only be used for high need areas like Math, Science and Special Education. Yet, I’ve worked in the district for over 10 years and have only met one TFA Science teacher, and one Math teacher. The rest have been History and English teachers. That is my experience, anyway, so I’m not buying into it. But, I would like the numbers. And, very few stay after two years- where are the numbers on that. How does that benefit our children?

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