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NJ Senate Denies Governor’s Education Overhaul Proposals

Chris Christie

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney won’t allow two of the governor’s major education overhaul proposals to get a vote, effectively killing the proposals before they were ever formally introduced as bills.

The Democratic lawmaker said Monday that he objects to Christie’s proposals to link teacher salaries to performance and to eliminate teacher seniority protections.

“I’ve never been a fan of merit pay. I don’t believe in it,” Sweeney said Monday. “Sometime when you have merit pay, you have the ability to have favorites. A real hard teacher gets less money than another teacher because he or she is not the favorite.”

Sweeney and other critics say seniority protections are needed to protect older teachers from being laid off in order to save districts money on retirement costs.

He supports some of the Republican governor’s ideas to overhaul teacher tenure but wants to see a different method used to measure teacher performance. He did not specifically say how he would like performance measured.

In April, Christie outlined proposals to change teacher tenure and evaluations, saying lifetime job protection for public school educators hurts children in the classroom.

The governor announced the seven new bills would be sponsored that include basing teacher evaluations equally on student performance and twice-yearly classroom observations, granting tenure after three years of effective reviews, and creating a system of merit pay that rewards teachers who work in failing districts, specialize in hard-to-staff subjects or whose students demonstrate measurable improvement.

Other bills in the package would protect young, accomplished teachers from layoffs by eliminating seniority protections for veteran teachers; allow districts to strip tenure protection from teachers rated ineffective; and make it quicker and less expensive to fire ineffective teachers.

“We can no longer afford to simply close our eyes and wish away the problems in our education system, hoping the system will fix itself,” said Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts.

The governor has accused the state’s largest teachers union of standing in the way of reforms, but Sweeney controls which bills are posted.

“We don’t think either of these so-called ‘reforms’ are supported by reliable research,” said Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the New Jersey Teachers Association. “We think teachers have taken enough punishment from this governor, and apparently the Senate president agrees.”

Christie has said overhauling the state’s education system would be his top priority once the pension and health benefits were changed and the budget was passed.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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