NEWARK — Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s formula for boosting student achievement in struggling schools is built on a simple concept — allowing principals to select their teaching staff regardless of seniority.
The union representing Newark teachers, however, believes the practice invites favoritism and puts older, more experienced teachers at a disadvantage. It plans to file a labor-relations complaint with the state if schools are not staffed based on seniority this fall.
“Teachers with the most years of experience must be offered jobs in their area of certification,” said Newark Teachers Union President Joseph Del Grosso. “This is not negotiable.”
Last year, roughly 80 tenured teachers without classrooms were offered jobs as assistants and specialists with no dock in pay. Retaining them cost the district $8 million.
If the union follows through on its complaint and prevails, Anderson could be forced to shuffle staffing in the 40,000-student district mid-school-year, a state Public Employment Relations Commission attorney said.
“We can require the district to undo whatever it has done,” said Martin Pachman, general counsel for the state Public Employment Relations Council, an administrative agency responsible for upholding New Jersey labor laws.
Staffing at eight of the city’s schools whose teachers and administrators all had to reapply for their jobs would be most affected if Anderson’s policy is struck down. The superintendent contested the union’s claim and said her policy does comply with state law on teacher seniority.
“Our main focus is to make sure that there is a high-quality, effective teacher in every classroom in Newark,” Anderson said.
Teachers left without a classroom last year because their school closed or consolidated were considered first for openings at other schools. But principals who could not find qualified candidates among that group were allowed, under the policy, to hire nontenured teachers instead.
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This fall, the pool of educators without placement could grow to as many as 460. Records of teaching vacancies listed in late June showed only 157 open positions, but a spokeswoman for the school district said as many as 500 positions are now open. It is unclear how many tenured staff members will fill those slots.
If Anderson concedes the district must lay off some staff members to save money, state law requires that new hires be the first to lose their jobs, regardless of their teaching abilities, because they have the fewest years of experience.
Del Grosso said the union chose not to fight Anderson’s staffing policy last year because the 80 teachers left without classrooms were initially pleased with their assignments.
“Teachers are telling us they’re not happy anymore. They feel they are being unduly singled out for no particular reason,” Del Grosso said.