Sunday Leftovers

This just in: NJEA Spokesman Steve Wollmer says tomorrow NJEA will unveil some new proposals, including one that will allow a tenured teacher "to be fired after one bad job review." (I'm just reading' 'em, but I don't know anyone who thinks that's a good idea.) Also, NJEA President Barbara Keshishian and Exec. Dir. Vince Giordano have met twice over the couple of weeks with sworn enemy George Norcross to discuss ways to improve Camden's failing schools. Why?
In the aftermath of their stinging legislative defeat over pensions and health benefits, and faced with education reform measures expected to move this fall, the new effort appears to be a revamped strategy for a union that had spent nearly two years politically digging trenches and building barricades.
Michael J. Ritacco, former (corrupt) superintendent of Toms River Public Schools, is suing the local School Board for violating his civil rights. According to today's Asbury Park Press, Ritacco claims that the Board withheld at least $62K due to him in unused sick leave and vacation time. Ritacco was indicted last year for stealing between $1-$2 million in bribes from the district’s insurance broker.

In other corruption news, two anonymous employees of the Elizabeth Public Schools say that a “high-profile corporate security firm,” Renaissance Associates, was hired by the Elizabeth School Board to “ferret out school district employees who may have leaked sensitive information about abuses in the school lunch program.” Last Spring Ted Sherman of the Star-Ledger broke the story about Board members indulging in nepotism and patronage (in addition to illegally receiving free lunch for their kids); in this most recent follow-up he reports that the two employees (referred to in court filings as Whistler Blower 1 and Whistle Blower 2) claim that the Board’s contract with the security firm is illegal because it was awarded without going through the standard bidding process. Their attorney says the use of public funds “to silence and punish th0se who speak out” against internal corruption is an “egregious abuse of public school funds.” The Board has also hired "four prominent criminal defense attorneys." No word on whether the proper bidding process was followed for their engagement

NJ Spotlight takes a close look at the New Jersey First Act, which requires that all new public employees, including school staff members, live in NJ. Currently, charter schools in Newark, Camden, and Jersey City are bearing the brunt of the law’s consequences, since they attract some highly-qualified staff members from either New York City or Philadelphia.

The NJ DOE is soliciting comments on its proposal for a waiver on the strictures of No Child Left Behind. g The waiver application proposes to divide NJ’s schools into three categories: Priority Schools, which are the lowest-performing 5% of Title 1 school; Focus Schools, which are schools, Title 1 or otherwise, with big achievement gaps or low graduation rates; and Reward Schools, which are high-performing schools. For more details, and to comment, see here.

Ray Pinney, blogger for NJ School Boards Association raises a thoughtful objection to statewide education reforms that fail to distinguish successful districts from unsuccessful ones: " in many districts the hiring system is working very well. In essence we are performing open heart surgery on everyone whether they have heart disease or not."

Richard Bozza, Executive Director of the NJ Association of School Administrators, has a take-down of the new anti-bullying legislation currently preoccupying local districts. The unfunded mandate, says Bozza, looks good on paper. But in practice
it’s been laden with shortcomings. Unfortunately, the law is so prescriptive, and the process so lengthy, that it actually works to extend the bullying experience — with the potential to diminish self-esteem in the process, as students continue to relive the incident before the situation is addressed.
Also, “districts have spent thousands in legal fees” and the law’s “effectiveness has been hampered by its extensive paperwork trail."

From The Dept. of Paranoia: The Record reports on concerns about public-private partnerships, including the rescue of NJ After 3, the afterschool program for poor kids which was almost shut down due to lack of state funding.

From the Statehouse Bureau’s lead-up to Tuesday’s elections and the fate of Speaker Sheila Oliver:

The next speaker will also stand at a critical crossroads in the future of education in the state, as Gov. Chris Christie seeks to overhaul the school system, including weakening teacher tenure and increasing the roles of charter schools. Thus far, Christie has managed to get his agenda through the Democratic-controlled Legislature, but that could change under new leadership.

Headline of the Week: "Jonny on the spot: Reality catches up to Corzine"

Don't miss Eduwonk's debate between Diane Ravitch and Eric Hanushek on the "pros and cons of more assertive policies to deselect the lowest-performing teachers."