On August 6, 2012, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act, which had been passed by both houses of the New Jersey Legislature. The TEACHNJ Act significantly changes how New Jersey teachers and other New Jersey public school “teaching staff members” acquire tenure.
A “teaching staff member” who obtains tenure can only be dismissed or have their compensation reduced “during good behavior” for “inefficiency, incapacity, or conduct unbecoming [ ] such a teaching staff member or other just cause.” It also provides procedural safeguards before they can be fired. (However, tenure does not prevent the school district or board of education from instituting layoffs – including laying off tenured teaching staff members – for reasons of economy or reduced enrollment, provided seniority rules are followed.)
“Teaching staff members” who may receive tenure include New Jersey public school teachers, of course, but also include these positions:
principal, other than administrative principal, assistant principal, vice-principal, assistant superintendent, and all school nurses, including school nurse supervisors, head school nurses, chief school nurses, school nurse coordinators, and any other nurse performing school nursing services, school athletic trainer and such other employees as are in positions which require them to hold appropriate certificates issued by the board of examiners, serving in any school district or under any board of education, excepting those who are not the holders of proper certificates in full force and effect, and school business administrators shared by two or more school districts.
Since 1909, the benchmark for attaining tenure has been three years of service. This remains the standard for teaching staff members employed before the 2012-2013 academic year. However, the TEACHNJ Act changes this requirement to 4 years for teachers hired for the 2012-2013 academic year and after. These teachers can satisfy the four year requirement and gain tenure after serving in the school district or for a particular board of education three ways:
- Service for “Four consecutive calendar years;” or
- Service for “Four consecutive academic years, together with employment at the beginning of the next succeeding academic year;: or
- Service for “The equivalent of more than four academic years within a period of any five consecutive academic years.”
This generally mirrors the three year tenure for New Jersey teachers and teaching staff members hired before the 2012-2013 academic year, except that for these earlier hires employers have been (and continue to be) allowed to shorten the period for three consecutive calendar years option.
A tenured teacher or other teaching staff member rated effective or highly effective on her most recent annual evaluations who accepts transfer to an underperforming school in the same position retains tenure at the new position. Tenured teachers who voluntarily accept transfer or promotion to other positions obtain tenure after two years in the same manner as the four year requirements for initial tenure.
The TEACHNJ Act also contains separate provisions regarding evaluations required prior to achieving tenure, and procedures for tenured teaching staff members to challenge disciplinary action. Like the changes to the acquisition of tenure, these provisions represent significant departures from a century of New Jersey law.
The TEACHNJ Act represents a sea change in New Jersey’s approach to tenure. Having knowledgeable attorneys to help you is vital. McLaughlin & Nardi’s attorneys have significant knowledge in this area. Indeed, Maurice McLaughlin wrote definitive book in this field, New Jersey Public Employment Law – Education Edition (Gann Law Books, 1st ed. 2012).