I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, January 16, 2012

Following the Law: Optional at Charter Schools

Both the Star-Ledger and the Record think the new law requiring criminal background checks and fingerprinting for school board members is onerous and silly. Perhaps. The Record says:
The centerpiece of the new law is the requirement for fingerprinting, which can imply arrest.
"If you want a background check, fine, but why does it have to include your fingerprints?" asks Jonathan Hodges, a Paterson school board member who may lose his seat for non-compliance. He added, "It's another erosion of our personal liberties."
It's true that many professions, including teaching, require criminal checks and fingerprinting. Teaching, however, is a full-time job. School board members are volunteers. It's certainly possible that over time the criminal background check requirement will make volunteering for what can be a time-consuming job less appealing.
Well, my town requires youth sports coaches to get fingerprinted, so I don't much see the difference. I'd also ask Mr. Hodges to consider that the teachers in his district have their salaries published in readily available databases; isn't that an "erosion of personal liberty"?

And, while school board members are volunteers (do any in New Jersey get a stipend?), they do hold positions of power and influence. If the simple act of fingerprinting is keeping someone from doing the job, I doubt they were very committed to it in the first place.

The S-L opines:
When the new background check was signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in May, it was supposed to take effect immediately. Yet, unbeknownst to legislators, the state needed federal clearance to complete the process, so it couldn’t be implemented right away. Board members were told to wait, said Frank Belluscio of the New Jersey School Boards Association, which caused initial confusion. “The sense of urgency was lost,” he said.
Since then, the state says it did everything it could to warn board members of the impending deadline, sending out three letters between July and December to their district offices. Those who did not act in time — a “wanted” list of 186 — have now been declared ineligible.
But wait: Some may have already registered for the finger-printing, yet could not complete it because of a backlog. Others may have had problems registering online. Besides, as The Star-Ledger found, the state’s ineligibility list itself contained errors — people who no longer serve on the boards, or never have.
Thankfully, after Assemblymen Jerry Green (D-Union) and Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) asked the state Friday to extend its deadline, acting education commissioner Christopher Cerf said he plans to give everybody another two weeks to comply.
That’s fair, because the law itself is clearly flawed. We don’t require background checks for other elected officials. Yet for board members with even a minor conviction, it mandates automatic disqualification without any sort of appeal process or discretion. Cerf should be allowed to consider the nature of the crime, how long ago it took place and the person’s record of community service.
OK, fine - except school boards knew about this since last May. That's plenty of time to comply with the law if the boards are diligent.

And the fact is, most were. There were only two public school boards in the entire state who had three or more members who didn't follow the procedure...

Except for charter schools. Eleven charters had three or more members who didn't comply; in one case, the ENTIRE charter board didn't follow the rules.

Now, we can argue about the validity of this law. We can argue that having one or two members who are not in compliance is not a big deal. We can be reasonable and extend the deadline for those who made a good faith effort to comply.

But this is the law, and it is incumbent on officials to follow it. If large numbers of people in certain schools did not, that demonstrates, to me, both a casual attitude toward following the rules and/or a level of incompetence that is simply not acceptable.

You may disagree with this law, but I think the fact that so many charter schools are not in compliance tells us something about these schools. At the very least, the state (and the media) ought to take a careful look at how they are being run. And, yes, that goes for the two public districts that weren't in compliance as well.


Anonymous said...

You raise a central issue in the current discourse about charter schools which are touted to offer superior education (not demonstrable) in part because they innovate more easily absent restricting regulations. Now, I take issue with almost every part of that claim - that they offer better educational options, that they innovate and that they should be excused from following regulations that all authentic public schools must follow. But current pro-charter movements will continue to push to exempt charter schools from rules and yes, even laws, at the notion that it improves educational outcome. Consequently, we have charter schools not following even basic safety rules, OPMA regulations and safeguarding our children. Clearly this was not the intent of allowing charter schools to innovate but it is the reality of where we are -- and it needs to stop!

Duke said...

Anon, you hit the nail on the head. The "innovation" charters offer is often to remove teacher work protections, pay teachers less, have them work longer without extra compensation, and bypass laws designed to protect students, teachers, and families.

As if these are the root problems that keep kids from achieving.

jcg said...

Duke & Anon,

Why do corporate-schools want exemptions from "onerous regulations"? Reason 1. Cheap labor.

Check out the teacher human trafficking case in New Orleans. The SPLC has the details, but in short, as part of the H-1B guest labor program, 2 private contractors lured Filipino teachers to teach in NO in 2007.I don't think NO is the only city where Filipinos were imported, but don't have that info readily available.

Here's a snippet from SPLC:
"The teachers were also forced to sign away an additional 10 percent of the salaries they would earn during their second year of teaching. Teachers who resisted signing the contracts were threatened with being sent home and losing the thousands they had already paid."


Anonymous said...

It may not have started this way when charter laws were first created but in the current day and age you have highlighted the problem -- the hoax that decrease regulations is to increase creativity in teaching and academic progress......whatever the goal was, today the decrease in regulations is the way to do amoral and unethical things that we see all over the business world (that I personally would like to see us teach our children NOT to do, but I stray).

There is an immense amount of creative teaching going on in public schools all over the state and the authentic public schools have not needed to be excused from regulations to do it.