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OPINION

Expensive, Lengthy NJ Teacher Tenure Process Revealed

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Education Action Group has produced an eye-opening chart illustrating the torturous, time-consuming and expensive process New Jersey schools must follow when attempting to fire a tenured teacher for “inefficiency, incapacity, conduct unbecoming or other just cause."

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EAG created this chart after consulting with James Smith, the executive director of school security for Paterson, NJ schools. We believe the chart is a clear indication that lawmakers in New Jersey and other states must seriously consider reforming and streamlining the tenure process, to make it quicker and easier to remove bad teachers from public school classrooms.

Click here for the full version.

Recently, Paterson schools made national news after it successfully fired a tenured special-education teacher. The defendant was found guilty of “unbecoming conduct,” which included hitting and/or punching a handicapped student. It took Paterson officials four years and over $400,000 to successfully fire the teacher.

The firing process begins with bringing tenure charges against a teacher. An in-depth investigation follows, during which physical and documentary evidence (such as e-mails, text messages, etc.) is gathered and sworn statements are collected from key witnesses. The investigative process typically lasts around three months.

“It’s like a murder investigation to get to an ineffective teacher,” Smith, a former police captain, said in an interview with EAG. “It’s ten times harder than criminal investigations.”

Once the sufficiency of the charges is established, the case is sent to the Office of Administrative Law, and a trial is scheduled. Because the “speedy trial” concept does not apply to tenure trials, they can take anywhere from one to four years to complete.

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“The judge might tell you, ‘I have two days in June, a day in July, one in August,’” Smith said in a recent television interview. The end result is that the trials tend to “drag on.”

During this time, the teacher’s pay is suspended for the first 120 calendar days. After those four months are over, the defendant’s taxpayer-funded salary is reinstated. The school district must then pay that salary for the length of the termination process, as well as wages to substitute teachers to cover for the defendant.

The chart depicts the entire process in 15 unique steps. Under the best circumstances, it takes just under two years to fire a tenured teacher. If there are delays, the proceedings can span five years or more.

Because the process is exorbitantly expensive and requires thousands of hours to complete, most schools only attempt to fire the most egregious offenders, leaving marginal or ineffective teachers in the classroom.

“It’s a time-consuming, painstaking process,” Smith said. “It takes guts, money and know-how.”

The Education Action Group created the chart to illustrate for New Jersey taxpayers how unwieldy and cost-prohibitive it is for their local schools to fire incompetent, indifferent and sometimes dangerous teachers once they have been granted tenure.

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This chart begs the question, Who are schools designed for: students or adults?

It’s a small wonder that there are fewer than 40 tenure cases in New Jersey each year. Cash-strapped schools can only afford to fire the most outrageous offenders. Because this is such an arduous process, it ends up protecting the incompetent and ineffective teachers, keeping them in the classroom. The worst part is that New Jersey’s school children end up paying the price in the form of a second-rate education.

The unions claim that tenure doesn't protect bad teachers. This chart and common sense refute that claim. I hope people will see this as another example of the unions putting the interests of its members over the needs of New Jersey’s school children.

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