EAG: New Jersey Tenure Law Makes Firing Difficult

A teacher at Bankbridge Regional School in Gloucester County, New Jersey  recently told a 15-year-old student that he was going to “kick his ass” could be on the district’s payroll for the next five years, even if the district decides to fire him, writes Ben Velderman at EAG.

With its complicated, expensive and time-consuming procedures, the Garden State’s teacher tenure law is deeply unpopular – 77 percent of state residents support tenure reform. Gov. Chris Christie, as well as legislative Democrats and Republicans, have offered reform plans, as reported at Education News.

But, after years of opposing substantive reform, the New Jersey Education Association is trying to re-brand itself as a reform organization, after recently unveiling its own plan to use arbitration instead of the courts when attempting to fire a tenured teacher.

However, Velderman points out that even under the union’s streamlined arbitration plan, firing an ineffective or dangerous teacher would still take up to nine months, and would remain cost prohibitive. That would leave schools with the same bad choices they have now.

“Instead of spending dwindling budget resources on an uncertain arbitration process, school districts would likely allow ineffective teachers to remain in the classroom, and might only attempt to fire the most egregious offenders, such as the abusive Bankbridge Regional School teacher.”

But Jeff Zaino, vice president of labor, employment and elections division for the American Arbitration Association, upholds the idea that arbitration is designed for speed, economy and justice.

“It takes six to nine months to arbitrate a standard labor dispute from start to finish,” Zaino told EAG. “The parties have control of the process and how it works.”

Whether arbitration is the way forward or not, the current system is losing even its most dedicated backers – even the union, which designed and defended the firing process, is finally acknowledging its times is up, and is calling for a new termination system based on arbitration.

“The current system, which involves hearings in the courts, is too expensive and too time-consuming,” said NJEA President Barbara Keshishian.

“NJEA proposes putting tenure cases before arbitrators, whose judgment would be final. Cases would be heard quickly and at a much lower cost.”