Will Christie Sign Tenure Reform Bill?

The future of bill S1455, New Jersey Senator Teresa Ruiz’ legislation on tenure reform, has been cast into doubt as Governor Chris Christie reconsiders signing it. Christie had been widely expected to sign the bill presented to him as his administration had been helping Ruiz work on the bill and tenure reform is a key part of Christie’s education platform.

Christie appears to be having second thoughts about the compromise Ruiz made with the New Jersey Education Association regarding seniority based layoffs. The NJEA have called seniority a ‘line in the sand’ and forced Ruiz to concede the issue to gain their support for the new bill.

“If you take away that provision, you open the way for complete political interference in public schools,” said NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer. “If he says he’s going to veto the bill, that’s his business. We won’t have tenure reform, and that’s on him.”

Ruiz has so far not commented on Christie’s change of heart but two weeks ago mentioned that she had wanted to do something about the issue of seniority but took it off the table as a compromise to ensure the bill would get passed and signed.

The signing is reportedly now in doubt, however, as Christie stated a town hall meeting in Brick Township that he hasn’t made up his mind whether to sign or not yet. He strongly believes that seniority rights, which ensure that new teachers are the first to be laid off during budget cuts and protect the most senior teachers, should be scrapped as they’re harmful to the long term health of the profession and fail the children being educated.

“What happens, of course, as a result is that a lot of the younger and most enthusiastic teachers automatically get taken out,” Christie told the audience of nearly 750. “Whether I sign it or I veto it, the bottom line is we have to get back to considering ‘last in, first out.’”

Despite Christie’s rhetoric, as reported by Salavador Rizzo on NJ.com, it seems most likely he’ll pinch his nose and sign anyway. The bill contains too much that he wants to do otherwise. Seniority seems to be an issue that will have to be dealt with at a later date.

The bill would institute a new system of yearly evaluations for teachers and principals based in part on student test scores, something Christie also wants. Ruiz’s bill gives the Department of Education authority to approve the way schools grade their teachers, and the department would also develop model evaluation scorecards that most districts are expected to adopt.