Today’s announcement that Philadelphia’s state-mandated administration unilaterally voided its contract with the city teachers’ union is a dramatic example of the assault on public employee unionism by both Democratic and Republican politicians–but it’s far from unique. In Newark, the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) and its members are under a relentless siege by Chris Christie’s state regime in New Jersey’s largest school district.
From materials released by the NTU, it’s clear Christie is using the state’s new tenure law–ironically endorsed by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union–not to assist instructors and improve teaching, its supposed aim, but to step up efforts to force veteran and highly paid teachers out of their jobs to save money and open slots for inexperienced and less expensive replacements, including Teach for America (TFA) short-timers.
At the Lafayette School, for example, a teacher with a strong 40-year record of experience–clearly a woman close to retiring–now faces tenure charges. The NTU materials on the woman, identified only by her initials SCP, indicates she received a “partial effective” evaluation last year–described by state officials themselves as a year in which the program would be piloted but not fully implemented.
SCP was not provided with the opportunity to develop a so-called “Correctve Action Plan” (CAP) required under the state regulations implementing the new tenure law. The failure of the district to provide that opportunity may defeat the effort to strip this veteran teacher of her tenure–but this is Newark where the law is often not followed by Christie and his agents.
NTU President Joseph Del Grosso says such examples represent a “complete and intentional disregard for the TeachNJ Act,” the name of the new tenure law.
At the same school, a well-known teacher and member of the community also has been brought up on tenure charges. Neil Thomas, the father of former student school board member and now Princeton student Jordan Thomas, received two “partially effective” evaluations–again, one was in the pilot year.
According to the NTU materials, the CAP requirement was not followed in Thomas’ case. In addition, he was, according to the NTU, “required by administrator to teach special education students (out of his certification) without supports.” Thomas also had testified in behalf of a colleague brought up on disciplinary charges–something that didn’t make him popular with his school administrators who wield the power of evaluations.
Many of the teachers now facing tenure charges or other disciplinary action–up to 70 of them–managed to receive positive evaluations for decades, including at times when Anderson already was superintendent. Christie and Anderson undoubtedly will point to that as an example of the effectiveness of the law, but it also is a convenient way to strip the schools of expensive, experienced teachers to lower costs, cut pensions, and make charters look better.
Many of them received their poor evaluations while they were on leave, either family leave or disability. Some received contradictory evalautions or were working under prohibited conditions, including over-sized classes or asked to teach special education without appropriate certifications or support.
Del Grosso said that Anderson’s violations of the tenure act “have led to retaliation against long-term effective teachers, violations of state and federal disability and family leave laws, and arbitrarily negative performance evaluations, with further financial consequences to educators, including the denial of salary increments, loss of position for non-tenured employees, and tenure charges for tenured positions.”
Newark teachers are well aware that principals are under pressure to increase the number of partially effective or ineffective evaluations–otherwise they face dismissal themselves. That apparently was the case with the abruptly fired Wayne Dennis of Barringer STEAM Academy who admitted he gave many poor evaluations and thought that would make Anderson happy. Instead, he was fired after only one year on the job.
Fighting tenure and other charges can be enormously expensive, for all parties involved. Although arbitration has cut down on the costs of tenure cases, it had cost each party in the past $60,000 or more. For Anderson’s Newark Public Schools, already $100 million in debt, event he reformed law is likely to mean millions in fees paid to outside attorneys.
Although union leaders rarely talk about such issues, needing to defend so many cases, some of them undoubtedly frivolous or vindictive, is punishing and can break a union. By law, the union must defend its members.