By Ashleigh Costello
TRENTON, NJ. – If Gov. Chris Christie had his way, New Jersey’s new tenure reform law would have included a provision scrapping seniority protections for union teachers.
But the state’s teachers unions refused to budge on the “last in, first out” layoff policy.
State officials are not done addressing the problem. The Department of Education sent a short survey to every district and charter school last week asking about their teacher layoffs over the past five years and how seniority protections affect their “ability to manage their personnel,” according to newsworks.org.
State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said the survey does not have a specific agenda, other than to gather information on how seniority protections actually affect districts.
“The empirical question I had was how consequential is this in terms of its practical impact on districts,” said Cerf. “We know about it in the abstract, but how does it have real consequences?”
The survey asks administrators to rate the extent to which the seniority rule influences the district’s management flexibility, reports the news site.
Despite New Jersey’s new tenure law, which for the first time directly links teacher job security to positive evaluations, school districts must still base layoffs on the “last in, first out” system.
Gov. Chris Christie originally pushed to scrap the provision, commonly known as LIFO, but was forced to compromise to secure passage of the tenure bill. Christie has since admitted that was his one regret about the new law, according to the news site.
Cerf said there were no immediate plans to end LIFO, but did not rule it out.
“Obviously the timing would be up to the governor’s office,” said Cerf. “But I don’t think any of us have retreated from the idea.”
The state’s teachers unions have rallied against the survey, calling it a “political agenda.”
“It’s no secret that the administration wants to eliminate the seniority rights of veteran teachers in New Jersey, and this survey would appear to assist in advancing that agenda,” said Steve Wollmer, communications director of the New Jersey Education Association.
“Our veteran teachers have helped build what is arguably the best public school system in the nation, so this agenda makes no educational sense,” he said. “It’s a political agenda, not an educational one.”
There’s no doubt that dumping LIFO would allow school districts more operational control. Administrators would be able to keep the most effective teachers and fire the worst, regardless of seniority.
As Gov. Christie understands, students should be able to learn from the best, not necessarily the oldest. But the unions won’t stand for such a logical idea.