Senate Bill 1455
Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for Children of NJ Act
Quality instruction is fundamental to student success in both the academic classroom and the career technical setting. The New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools shares the goal of ensuring that New Jersey law supports quality teaching through a fair system for educator evaluation and mechanisms to improve or remove the limited number of consistently poor performers. New Jersey’s county vocational-technical school leaders support most core elements of Senate Bill 1455, but we believe some mechanisms in the bill should be improved to better address the needs and realities of small and mid-sized school districts.
Tenure serves an important role in the public educational system, and the district leaders represented by the Council support reforms that will ease the removal of educators deemed ineffective by a series of objective evaluations. The proposed two-year timeframe affords ample opportunity for a teacher or principal who is not effective to receive coaching and improve performance. An individual who does not improve within a year after being rated “ineffective” or “partially ineffective” should not retain job protection afforded by tenure.
Similarly, the Council strongly supports the proposal to eliminate seniority as the basis for decisions regarding a reduction in force. School leaders need sufficient flexibility to address district/school needs and retain the strongest teachers when there is a need to eliminate certain teaching or supervisory positions. The bill would establish a fair and objective process for considering educator effectiveness rather than seniority.
However, because a reduction in force (RIF) is often made in response to budget limitations and/or enrollment changes, we must respectfully oppose the proposal to pay a teacher for up to 12 months when their position is eliminated. This would impose a severe economic burden on school districts and effectively negates the purpose of a RIF.
County vocational schools could see a particular negative impact because they employ many teachers with specialized certifications in career areas such as plumbing, culinary arts, information technology, graphic arts, auto technology, and health careers. If a county vocational technical school district makes the difficult decision to close a program because of budget constraints or limited enrollment, it is unlikely that they could offer the teacher another assignment in his/her specific career certification area. Given the fiscal realities of limited funding from both the state and counties, we simply cannot justify closing a program yet continuing to pay a teacher who is not teaching.
The Council also has serious concerns about several aspects of the bill that appear to undermine the authority of district superintendents and boards of education. The authority to hire, revoke tenure, and/or remove a teacher must remain with the superintendent and board of education. While school principals should have significant input, it is inappropriate and counter-productive to place the sole authority for these critical personnel decisions with building principals.
• The proposed mechanism to give principals the sole authority for personnel decisions appears geared toward very large school districts. However, the vast majority of New Jersey school districts, including all county vocational-technical districts, are small or mid-sized districts in which the superintendents work closely with their building principals on all aspects of the educational program as well as administrative priorities. These districts must not be saddled with mechanisms inappropriate for their size and structure.
• Principals must deal with teaching staff on a daily basis as an instructional leader and a few controversial decisions could create a negative environment in the school building. School climate is an important factor in the quality of teaching and learning, and is better served by having personnel decisions made at the central office and board level.
• As written, the bill requires a building principal or vice/assistant principal to participate in every observation. In many schools, supervisors play a critical role in observing and evaluating teachers and they should not be excluded from the process. The option to involve supervisors in observation and evaluation will strengthen the process and reduce the time crunch that will be placed on principals.
• Principals are responsible for evaluating teacher performance, which serves as the evidence for any decision to revoke tenure or remove a teacher. The superintendent should review and consider that evidence and a principal’s recommendation, while retaining the authority to revoke tenure or remove an employee based upon job performance. Requiring the evaluator to make a final decision eliminates a critical check and balance.
• The proposed mechanism would place new, non-tenured principals in the position of evaluating and making personnel decisions regarding long-serving teachers. Careful oversight is needed to ensure that a new principal, who might ultimately be rated as “ineffective,” is not given the sole authority to remove a teacher based on inadequate evidence.
• Principals should have extensive input into hiring decisions, but the superintendent should make the final recommendation based on principal input. Principals often lack expertise in complex certification issues that must be considered in hiring, especially around career technical certification, so it is imperative that the superintendent and central office be involved in the decision process.
• Part of hiring is determining where a candidate should be placed on the district salary guide, and there are often judgment calls about how certain experience should be valued. For consistency and fiscal responsibility, the superintendent should set the salary and make hiring recommendations to the Board of Education based upon principal input.
• The Board of Education must affirm any decision to revoke tenure or remove a teacher because it will be ultimately responsible for defending any legal challenge to such personnel decisions.
• While the proposed school improvement panels seek to diffuse these concerns about placing too much authority with the building principal, we do not believe this approach is appropriate. Not all schools have assistant principals, and having a teaching staff member from another building involved in these decisions raises questions about compensation and objectivity. For small and mid-sized school districts, the building principal and superintendent should make hiring, retention and removal decisions together.
The concept of “mutual consent” is another area of concern. Superintendents must retain the authority to deploy staff as needed, just as private sector managers do. If a strong teacher is needed to fill a vacancy in another school, they should not be able to refuse this assignment. Similarly, if the administration needs a great principal to take on a struggling teacher in an effort to improve performance, he/she should not have the option to refuse consent. The bill will give school leaders tools to remove poor performers; it is neither necessary nor appropriate to include a provision to guard against placing ineffective teachers where they are not wanted. The provision to pay a teacher who refuses or is refused “mutual consent” for 12 months is especially onerous.
The Council supports the concept of improving educator evaluation for increased objectivity and consistency. New Jersey is just beginning the process of defining and identifying the mechanisms for high-quality evaluation, and it will take some time to gain consensus on the process and prepare for implementation of an improved evaluation structure. We support the bill’s proposed mechanism of State Board of Education-approved criteria for evaluation rubrics because this gives districts sufficient flexibility to select and adapt a model that best meets its unique needs.