Teachers and unions under attack–in Philadelphia and Newark

Christie and Anderson, together trying to fire teachers and break their union
Christie and Anderson, together trying to fire teachers and break their union

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.

Jordan Thomas
Jordan Thomas

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.

 

 

16 comments

  1. Amie

    It’s unthinkable that the NJEA went along with these “reforms.” They stabbed us in the back to save their own faces. Their support of this law was political in nature and for that, no forgiveness on my part is in sight.

  2. Damager

    I worked in Newark for 15 years. I taught in an inclusion class where no special Ed teacher was provided. One day a student attacked me. I needed surgery. The administration decided to come after me instead of address the fact that they were out of compliance with 9 children’s IEP’s. These administrators doing the evaluations are incompetent at best and just trying not to get fired. It is a bad scene there. I’m grateful I had the courage to leave, but upset that I couldn’t fulfill my promise to myself to help and serve the great childern of Newark. They deserve better.

    • marin

      Dear Damager,
      I totally agree the administrators are incompetent. They don’t know protocols or procedures, in my experience the new principal and vps( 2 years in the school with no previous experience) had very little understanding of how to create a safe learning environment. Students ran the hallways and became empowered to do as they pleased. Next thing you knew the school was closing because it was a failing school, and opened as a charter. However previous to this administration the school was a respectable environment for student learning, with very high expectations for student behavior. Why isn’t the administration being held responsible for the damage they are doing. Because……………. they are all in on the big picture… which includes getting rid of union employees regardless of their ability.

  3. Galton

    Unmentioned in this predictable series of events is Senator Teresa Ruiz, “author”/ plagiarizer of the TEACHNJ ACT. In addition to he “job” as a Christie loyalist in the NJ Senate, Ruiz is also Joe DeVincenzo’s third deputy CHEIF of STAFF.

    She follows orders and remains mum on the chaos and millions of wasted dollars spent refining SGP , SGO and other TEACHNJ idiocy.

    Ruiz by the way is an ESSEX COUNTY DEMOCRAT!!!!!

    • Tim

      Ruiz’s husband was also found guilty of election fraud during her election! This just shows you what we and NJEA are dealing with.

      Bob, you have to remember that when Christie took office, he would not meet or talk with NJEA, he refused to negotiate with the RTTT and you know what happen to Schundler. Christie wanted a NJEA rep. fired because he sent a joke about Christie in a private E-mail and Christie was able to buy his way into the Health-Pension bill over NJEA objection.

      So now, the Union has taken a pounding and Christie wants to destroy Tenure and FIFO. A Bill is started with Ruiz (corporate puppet) and NJEA gets a chance to “negotiate”, that is, make it fair without completely destroying Tenure.

      Do you think NJEA or any Educator is happy with this? It is simply better than what actually could have happened!

      Bob Braun: So the union can do nothing now? What does any of this have to do with the disgustingly smarmy endorsement of Cory Booker?

      • Tim

        “What does any of this have to do with the disgustingly smarmy endorsement of Cory Booker? ”

        It has nothing to do with the endorsement that is why my comment is here and not in the article on the Booker endorsement.

        The endorsement is Politics. My hope is that they have been able to set up an understanding with Booker and maybe some promises. My personal feelings is that Booker is really a “good man” and truly wants to do the right thing. He is star struck (and $$$ struck) with corporate dollars and is really ignorant as to what is truly happening but with time he may be just the one to turn things around.

        NJEA endorsement does not have the clout it use to have!

        Bob Braun: Naive

        • Truthglow

          BOOKER IS A JOKE! He’s not fit to be a Senator, & you are either extremely naive or a typical NJ Political HACK! NJ doesn’t need another “star struck, $$$ struck, ignorant” politician in our corrupt state!!!! Though he’ll most likely win, WE DON’T NEED OR WANT CORY BOOKER!!!! Much better to write-in someone else and send the crooks a message!

        • Becca Field

          Indeed NJEA endorsements have lost credibility and thereby influence because they use the endorsements for access not defending their members. Access when not respected is not really very meaningful if politicians know they can get those endorsements despite holding positions antithetical to the best interest of the members.

        • Galton

          Tim,
          Naive is right. Wake up. I hold Sweeney, DeVencenzo, and puppets , Donald,Teresa, Sheila and THE NJEA LEADERSHIP more responsible than Christie! Christie lied but everyone knows he hates unions, and teachers : News flash, Dogs have fleas and pigs wallow!

          The Democrats under Georgie and Stevie (and the former NJEA Leadership) however, have given away what Christie could never have taken! They gave it away.

          Worse still DeVincenzo has been empowered by his betrayal, and Ruiz won with the biggest margin in the state!
          Wake up Tim. Your friends are not worthy.

    • Chanel

      Ruiz and her husband are Stephen Adubato’s puppets. She worked as a preschool teacher for like a year and a half (she was not great or effective) Joe D is like Stephen’s son. Ruiz and her husband do nothing without Stephen’s approval.

  4. Educator

    Time for a guessing game…which NJ district will have its CBS “voided” first?
    Newark (2-1 odds)
    Camden (5-1)
    Paterson (8-1)

    • Tim

      I not sure CBS? If you are talking about CBA, Collective Bargaining Agreements, then I’ll take Camden, they are taking a pounding and have little resistance. They have mainly stayed out of the news and there are many things going on and much money to be had at the public expense!

  5. Joe

    There’s an all-out total war against unions in this country. It’s no accident that the unionization rate is down to about 11.2% of the workforce. In the private sector, the unionization rate is 6.9%. In the 1950s, the unionization rate was in the 30% to 34% range. The unionization rate for some other countries: Canada 28%+, Germany 19% (but Germany has works councils which sit at the same table as the board of directors of the big companies), Finland 74% and Denmark, Sweden and Norway have unionization rates in the 50% to 65% range. There is no war on unions in those countries.

  6. Bill Wolfe

    Bob – have you read the new book “Excellent Sheep”? Highly recommended.

    Scathing indictment of educational elites – there some astute criticism of TFA too.

  7. Pingback: Letter From A Teacher On MLK DayThe Educator's Room | Empowering Teachers as the Experts.

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