Newark schools demand the right to retain the best teachers

May 24, 2012

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By Victor Skinner
EAGnews.org

NEWARK, N.J. – Newark public school officials have far more teachers than necessary for the district’s declining student population, and they’re willing to pay their poorest performers to go away.

A $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg could provide the capital to purge the district’s teacher ranks of lackluster educators, but there is one catch: the local teachers union must approve the plan to move away from its outdated “last in, first out” seniority-based system.

“It’s no secret that we have more educators than we need to support our declining student population and – because of outdated laws and contracts – we cannot retain the highest quality staff and balance our budget,” Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson told the Associated Press.

Anderson is putting the onus on the Newark Teachers Union to do the right thing, and agree to a performance-based layoff procedure for the district’s estimated 300 teacher surplus.

District officials are facing a financial crisis, and basing layoffs on teaching ability, rather than time served in the school system,  is the only way to ensure that quality instructors aren’t swept out of the district, according to Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

“If we could fire the 300 or 400 lowest-performing teachers, (Anderson) wouldn’t have a financial crisis,” Booker said. “But her crisis right now is based on the fact that she can’t get rid of teachers that way.”

Like most school districts, Newark’s teachers union contract stipulates that educators must be dismissed or laid off using the “last in, first out” method, which typically means bright and enthusiastic young educators are shown the door to preserve positions for older union members.

Booker told education reporters in Philadelphia that the high cost of removing tenured teachers – a reality tied to the lengthy and expensive process outlined in New Jersey law and union contracts – prevents district officials from removing teachers that don’t deserve to be in the classroom, the AP reports.

In one instance, Booker said, it took 18 months, 29 hearings and $400,000 to remove a single teacher “who everybody knew was not a good teacher, not serving kids.”

EAGnews.org has documented the termination process for New Jersey’s tenured teachers in a flow chart.

Anderson, meanwhile, is “finding every way to hold off on laying off hundreds of teachers that could be the best quality teachers” to buy time to work out a deal with the teachers union, Booker said, according to the AP.

“If we can’t figure that out, Newark will lose,” he said.

Officials with Startup Education, a foundation set up to administer Zuckerberg’s massive financial donation to the district, have said financial support for the district is contingent upon union and school leaders reaching a “breakthrough contract.”

In other words, it’s checkmate for the Newark Teachers Union.

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