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Revisions to Seniority-Based Layoffs Eyed in Newark

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson is seeking a waiver of the state's education code to allow performance to factor into teacher-layoff decisions, reports WNYC. Current law requires layoffs to be conducted by reverse seniority, sometimes called a "last-in, first-out" (or LIFO) rule.

A waiver would allow teachers' evaluation results to factor into decisions about who to terminate. A good portion of teachers that would be laid off would come partly from a pool of "excessed" teachers who don't have permanent teaching positions, but are still employed by the district, WNYC reports.

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The city has been mired in controversy over education plans, including a donation by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a teacher contract that led to dissent among the rank-and-file, and pushback against Anderson's One Newark plan, which supports charters among other policies. 

The teachers' unions criticized Anderson's bid.

"It will enable her to mass-fire Newark's teachers. This isn't what students need or teachers deserve, and it creates more distrust in a community already laden with it," said Randi Weingarten, the president of the local union's parent, the American Federation of Teachers, in a statement.

As arguments about layoffs go, Weingarten's depiction of mass firing is a little odd: Seniority-based layoffs in principle require more dismissals than other methods since they target the newest, lower-paid teachers. (For instance, you have to cut three teachers making $34,000 to two making $50,000 to achieve the same budget savings.) But the AFT has increasingly criticized new teacher-evaluation systems, especially when based partly on student scores. And the national union says that seniority-based layoffs protect senior teachers with higher salaries from being targeted for cuts.

There's an interesting state subtext to this, too, because New Jersey's law revamping teacher evaluations in the Garden State succeeded in passing the legislature only after provisions dealing with seniority-based layoffs were stripped from the bill, to Republican Gov. Chris Christie's displeasure. And according to the radio station, at least one key Democratic lawmaker is on record saying he won't support any revisions to the LIFO rule.

Photo: Cami Anderson beams as she is announced as the chief of the Newark Public School system in 2011. —Julio Cortez/AP-File

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