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

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Chris Christie Disses His Own Teacher Tenure Law

What would the crusaders against teachers unions do without their little anecdotes?
An arbitrator has ruled that Arnold Anderson can keep his tenured, $90,000-a-year job — for now. 
Anderson, who teaches at Roosevelt Elementary School in New Brunswick, needed to be at work by 8:40 a.m. The school’s principal reported he punched in late by more than five minutes six times during the last school year and 16 times in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the ruling. He was late another 40 times in the last school year and 49 times a year earlier.
Look, I'm all for adhering to contracts; if you have to be at work at 8:40, be at work by 8:40. But I get the sense that this was something that could have been resolved with a lot less drama.
Anderson told CBS 2 that most of the late-shows were during an unwritten grace period for teacher arrivals.
“You clock in, there’s a long line and stuff like that, so you have a three-minute window,” Anderson said. “In the two years, I was late more than 10 minutes only once — and I mean, you know, my car broke down.” [emphasis mine]
I tried to find the bell schedule for Anderson's district, but I couldn't. Who knows -- maybe this really did impact his students. Certainly, a supervisor is well within his or her rights to demand that employees follow negotiated rules (although I suspect there's more to this story than either Anderson or his district is letting on). But let's assume this was a serious problem and needed to be addressed.

Why, then, didn't the arbitrator allow Anderson to be fired?
The school district has already withheld raises from Anderson. However, Gregory ruled he couldn’t be fired without due process. In a July ruling, Gregory said Anderson hadn’t received a formal notice of inefficiency (a charge allowed after two poor annual performance reviews) and that he would have 90 days to correct the problem.
I'm afraid we have to get into the weeds a bit. TEACHNJ, New Jersey's tenure "reform" bill, was passed in August of 2012; however, the law didn't take effect until October. There has been some controversy over whether the provisions of TEACHNJ, therefore, started in the 2012-13 school year, or 2013-14. In a kinda/sorta use of the idea of judicial precedent, arbitrators have come to agree that TEACHNJ actually started in the 2013-14 year.

Anderson's district tried to dismiss him based on his 2012-13 review. But the old law says he was entitled to a 90 day period from a notice of inefficiency to correct his problems. He never got it; therefore, he can't be dismissed.

I'm actually sympathetic to the idea that districts didn't have a clearly delineated path to dismissing an ineffective teacher as the state transitioned to TEACHNJ. Maybe somebody should have stopped and thought about these things a bit before rushing through the law... but, hey, the back-slapping couldn't wait! Here's what Christie, for example, said about TEACHNJ back in 2012:
“This is a historic day for New Jersey and this new tenure law is an important step towards ensuring we have a great teacher in every classroom. After more than 100 years in existence, this Administration, Legislature and key reformers have done together what many considered to be impossible. For their leadership in this effort and for their partnership, I thank Senator Ruiz, Assemblyman Diegnan, the sponsors in each chamber, and the Legislature as a whole in this long, difficult, but bipartisan, effort to bring real and meaningful change to our education system,” said Governor Christie. “We are taking a huge leap forward in providing a quality education and real opportunity to every student in New Jersey. But our work to develop laws that put students first is not done. Now is the time to build on this record of cooperation and results to put in place further reforms focused on our students by ending the flawed practice of Last In, First Out and supporting both differentiated pay and banning forced placements of teachers.” [emphasis mine]
He's still working on that other stuff... but man, he loved him some TEACHNJ back in the day, didn't he? Except when an arbitrator actually follows the law Christ Christie himself touted, the governor tends to get all pissy. And we all know what that means:

Think I'm too tough on the teachers union? This is what we're dealing with in NJ . . .

Yes, we're all dealing with something for sure, Governor Christie: your law. Which clearly stated when you signed it that the arbitrator had the power to make the sort of judgements that David L. Gregory makes in this case:
I am intrigued by Respondent's innovative legal argument that Respondent's notorious tardiness record does not somehow warrant a severe sanction. Ultimately, however, abstract theory does not carry the day for the Respondent. He offers no credible explanations for his proven tardiness record. Withholding increment increases does not seen to have captured Respondent's attentions sufficient to dramatically improve his punctuality. Nevertheless, Respondent is entitled to due process and fundamental fairness. Due process is best understood as that which is due under the circumstances. With a decade and a half of service, progressive discipline and due process sufficiently militate against summary discharge in the case. Once charges are so well proven, I believe that the Employer is usually entitled to the imposition of the penalty sought. This is the established Elkouri principle. The case presents the rare exception to the general rule, and is also in fill accord with the Elkouri principle. [emphasis mine]
In other words: the guy was five minutes late, and he needs to pay a price -- half a year suspension with no pay. But dismissal? Seems a bit much.

Now, you are free to disagree with Gregory -- but TEACHNJ says he gets to make the call. If Christie didn't think that was acceptable, why did he sign the law and then boast about how it was "an important step towards ensuring we have a great teacher in every classroom"?

Further: why is Chris Christie now blaming the teachers union for the consequences of a law he signed and he bragged about? You can't have it both ways: you can't go on the campaign trail and crow about your record and then turn around and complain the laws you signed don't produce the results you want.

But more than that: if the point of TEACHNJ was to get rid of "bad" teachers like Arnold Anderson, whose great crime was that he shows up to work between five and ten minutes late too often...

Are we really focusing on the most pressing problem facing New Jersey's schools?

In New Brunswick, Anderson's district, 88% of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch in 2014-15. Some further data:

Teachers should show up to work on time. But maybe it's also important that students show up to school in good health and with fully bellies, ready to learn. What, exactly, is Chris Christie doing about that?

Why do you keep bringing that up? Just shut up already!

1 comment:

J said...

This case just shows how ugly and contentious the teacher wars have become. It's obviously not "about the children" who did not suffer from this teacher's "tardiness" because it was during the period when classes had not begun yet. But having him out of the classroom for half a year and then transitioning back in WILL be a major disruption. The case also illustrates how poor supervision has actually been responsible for "bad teachers in the classroom." And why the hell are teachers clocking in anyway? Do doctors? Lawyers? Engineers? The true question should have been, "Did this teacher's tardiness have a negative impact on his performance in the classroom?" If so, follow the law and fire him. If not, it's nitpicking.