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Firing a Tenured NJ Teacher is a Lenghty and Costly Process [AUDIO/POLL]

Fire that teacher! That was the reaction from most New Jerseyans after hearing audio recordings of a teacher and an aide mocking and swearing at a ten year-old autistic boy. It’s not as easy as that. Terminating a teacher takes a long time, costs a lot of money and in the end the teacher everyone feels should be fired might never be fired anyway.

Matt Cardy, Getty Images

Mike Yaple with the New Jersey School Boards Association says firing a teacher starts with a lengthy hearing. He explains, “The process takes about a year. It can cost in the six-digits because that includes attorneys fees, paying for a substitute teacher and paying the teacher because after 120 days, by law the teachers’ salaries are restored”

Even if it is decided that the teacher in question should be fired, that doesn’t mean the teacher will be fired. Yaple explains, “It’s up to the state education officials to decide whether or not that teacher would lose their job…..Because of the time and the cost and the unpredictability, you really only see the worst of the worst cases being brought forth.”

In New Jersey, teacher enure is job protection that is acquired after working three years and a day in a school district. Tenure was established over a century ago before the myriad of statute, regulations and caselaw that we have today. Schools today operate with the oversight by the NJ Department of Education, and must follow decisions made by the New Jersey School Ethics Commission, grievances heard by the Public Employment Relations Commission, anti-nepotism regulations, and an accumulation of years of labor laws. In addition, school employees have one of the most well-financed labor unions in the state.

To remove someone with tenure, “tenure charges” can be filed for conduct unbecoming (most common); inefficiency (doing the job poorly); incapacity (person is physically or mentally unable to perform his/her job duties); or abandonment of job. Any person can file tenure charges, but it’s usually it’s a principal or school administrator.

The charges are first brought to the school board secretary, who notifies the employee that tenure charges have been filed. The employee has 15 days to respond to the Board of Education. The Board of Education holds a hearing and decides whether to proceed. If the school board believes there is not probable cause, the matter is dropped. If there is sufficient evidence, the board files the tenure charges with the state Commissioner of the NJ Department of Education. The Commissioner assigns an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to hold a hearing, and there is a process similar to a court case, with evidence presented, etc.

The ALJ makes a recommendation, and the Commissioner can accept, reject or modify the ALJ’s recommendation. In some cases, the Commissioner may decide the person should only experience a loss in pay, or not lose their job at all.

There are typically two to four dozen instances a year when a board files tenure charges with the Commissioner, but some of those cases are settled or become moot if the teacher moves or quits, etc. The Commissioner only adjudicates a handful of those cases: It can range from 8 or 9 a year, and in some years it might be around 12 to 20 cases that are decided. That is a very small number out of 136,441 certified school staff throughout the state for 2010-11.

Tenure reform proposal in the state Legislature would create a multi-tiered evaluation system for teachers and principals based on merit (e.g., using student performance as one measure of success). Tenure for teachers or any principal would be revoked if they do no show improvement after two poor annual evaluations. In addition, it would take at least four years for new teachers to obtain tenure.

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