The next attack: Seniority

Published on Friday, November 30, 2012

SeniorityYou have to give the Christie administration credit.  When they say they’re coming after NJEA members, they mean it.

Of course, they never actually say that’s their goal.  Instead, they cloak their proposals in terms of “what’s best for students.”

The latest attack is on seniority, because current law says that when layoffs of tenured teachers are taking place, districts must primarily take years of service into account when deciding who is laid off.

Even while praising NJEA’s involvement in crafting the tenure reform law last August, Governor Christie made it clear that he wanted to end seniority rights, promising to do so in the coming year.

Two days before Thanksgiving (nice touch), Assistant Commissioner of Education Peter Shulman sent a memo to superintendents asking them to respond to an electronic survey to “help us better define State efforts around recruitment and retention.” 

Utilizing the Survey Monkey program Shulman wanted to know (after asking if districts had experienced a reduction in force (RIF) in any years since 2007) how superintendents would answer the following question: “Please pick the response that best completes the following sentence: The requirement under current law that tenured teachers be reduced in force exclusively on the basis of seniority ______ my districts [sic] flexibility in managing personnel.”

The choices for responding?  “Greatly reduces”, “Somewhat reduces”, “Does not affect”, “Somewhat increases”, or “Greatly increases.”

Not very sophisticated stuff.  And, if we might suggest, totally transparent.

Yet reported that Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf said “there wasn’t any specific agenda to the survey,” adding with respect to seniority that “the empirical question I had was how consequential is this in terms of its practical impact on districts.  We know about it in the abstract, but how does it have real consequences?”


Here are the real consequences of keeping veteran educators on the job in New Jersey, Mr. Cerf: New Jersey’s public schools are among the very best in the nation, and we lead the nation in a number of categories.  Talented teachers who excel at their profession are a primary reason for that success.

Attacking seniority is a great way to sow division in the ranks of teachers, and a great way to save cash-starved districts money, given that senior teachers earn more.  But you won’t hear the administration admit to those facts.

Instead, they cloak their latest attack on NJEA members as “in the best interests of students.”

But this isn’t about education.  It’s about politics, and suggesting otherwise – or denying that this bogus “survey” has no agenda – won’t fool anyone.


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