Frequently Asked Questions
Published June 27, 2012
Q: What is the status of tenure reform legislation in the Legislature?
A: The Senate and Assembly have both passed tenure reform legislation unanimously. It now awaits the governor’s signature in order to become law.
Q: Whose idea was this legislation?
A. The version passed by both houses represents a melding of two earlier proposals sponsored by Senator Ruiz and Assemblyman Diegnan, as well as input from many other stakeholders. NJEA suggested many of its provisions, based on education reform proposals we announced in late 2011.
Q: How is tenure acquired under the bill?
A: The time period to achieve tenure will be lengthened to four years from the current three. To achieve tenure, teachers must complete a district mentorship in their first year of teaching. They must then be rated effective or highly effective in two of their next three years’ annual summative evaluations.
Q: Will this affect non-tenured teaching staff who are currently employed?
A: All employees in the process of earning tenure before the signing of the bill will still earn tenure in three years. The four-year provision only applies to new hires.
Q: Will teaching staff members who are currently tenured have to earn it all over again?
Q: Who is covered under the bill?
A: All teaching staff members (all certificated staff) are covered under the bill. However, some of the bill’s provisions do not apply to teaching staff members working under educational services certificates.
Q: How does the bill treat teaching staff members working under educational services certificates differently?
A: Educational services staff do not need to complete a first-year mentorship, and are not subject to the evaluation rating categories spelled out in the bill.
Q: Does this bill affect the tenure rights of secretaries?
A: No. Secretaries will continue to earn tenure after three years, and their dismissal cases will continue to be heard by administrative law judges.
Q: How are tenure charges triggered?
A: Teachers, principals, vice principals, and assistant principals must be given an annual summative evaluation in which they will be rated as highly effective, effective, partially effective, or ineffective. Tenure charges must be brought against an employee who has an ineffective or partially effective rating in one year and who is rated ineffective the following year in annual summative evaluations. Tenure charges may be brought against an employee rated ineffective or partially effective in one year and partially effective the following year. That employee may, at the discretion of the superintendent, be given a third year to improve, but would have to receive a rating of effective or highly effective in that third year in order to avoid facing tenure charges.
Q: Does this bill maintain the due process rights of school employees?
A: Yes. Unlike earlier versions of the bill, this legislation guarantees employees the right to rebut the charges against them and to have a hearing before a neutral third party.
Q: How will dismissal cases be heard?
A: According to the bill, tenure hearings for teaching staff members will go before an arbitrator, with the costs of arbitration borne by the state of New Jersey. The original Senate bill kept cases in the courts, where cases frequently took too long and cost too much. It was NJEA that proposed taking the courts out of the mix, and putting cases before an arbitrator. The arbitrator’s decision will be final and binding.
Q: Does this bill link tenure and evaluation?
A: Tenure and evaluation have always been linked. This bill, however, makes that linkage more specific. It provides the Department of Education statutory authority to implement the pilot evaluation program that is currently underway. The evaluation component would need to be implemented in the 2013-2014 school year. Evaluations must be based on “multiple objective measures of student growth” and allow the district to determine a measure of student growth when there is no state-mandated standardized test. NJEA won a provision stipulating that student test scores cannot be the “predominant” factor in teacher evaluation. The overwhelming conclusion of respected research on the use of test scores suggests that they should not be the deciding factor in a teacher’s evaluation or employment. The bill also stipulates that all information relating to evaluations is confidential and shall not be accessible to the public. NJEA continues to push for a valid and reliable evaluation system.
Q: Who will do the evaluations?
A: A school improvement panel will conduct evaluations and help select professional development opportunities. The panel will consist of a principal or his/her designee, a vice or an assistant principal, and a teacher, except that the teacher shall have no role in the evaluation process, unless the majority representative (local union) has agreed to this. The original Senate bill had teachers – rather than certified supervisors – conducting the evaluations. Evaluations must be done by in-district certified administrators.
Q: Does this bill make any changes to seniority rights?
A: No. NJEA fought successfully to remove such provisions from earlier versions of the bill.
Q: Does the bill require administrators to consent to a teacher’s transfer?
A: The original Senate bill would have provided that teachers could not be transferred without the consent of both the principal and the teacher. This would have opened the door for a principal to block a senior teacher seeking a transfer to that principal’s school, leaving that teacher with nowhere to teach. That teacher would then have been placed in the “priority hiring pool” for one year, then would lose salary and benefits. NJEA succeeded in removing that provision.
Q: Who will pay for the cost of implementing this legislation?
A: The Department of Education is required to provide funds to implement the act. The cost of arbitrators will be borne by the state.
Q: Does NJEA have any remaining concerns?
A: NJEA remains concerned about the evaluations that will be used to rate teachers. We will continue working with legislators and the Department of Education to ensure those evaluations are fair, valid and reliable.
Q: When does this legislation take effect?
A: It takes effect in the 2012-2013 school year. Districts are not required to implement the new evaluation system until the 2013-2014 school year.