In recent days, I have heard reports that Clifford Janey, Newark’s School Superintendent, may be out of a job. Janey is 2 years into a 3 year contract. However, Newark schools are under the jurisdiction of the Governor, which means that Chris Christie is Clifford Janey’s boss. And for reasons as yet unstated, Governor Christie has let it be known that, not only may Janey’s contract not be renewed, it may be terminated early.
I had filed this fact away as an interesting yet innocuous tidbit until I read an editorial in Today’s Wall Street Journal about Michelle Rhee, Schools Chancellor for Washington, D.C. Ms. Rhee has just concluded a negotiation with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten which has resulted in a noteworthy new contract. Among other terms, this new contract includes:
1. An abolition of “lock-step” pay;
2. The implementation of a voluntary performance-based compensation system;
3. Changes in tenure rules which allows bad teachers to be fired more easily and marginal teachers to be placed on probation for 2 years.
So what does this have to do with New Jersey? The WSJ editorial provides the following:
“Unfortunately, most school chancellors are careerists who don’t want to upset the unions because they are always looking for their next job. One example: Clifford Janey, whom Ms. Rhee replaced in D.C., went on to become the superintendent in Newark, N.J. whose schools may be worse than D.C.’s. Ms. Rhee, by contrast, came to her job as an outsider willing to endure the considerable abuse that the unions and their political backers threw at her.”
And so it seems that the Wall Street Journal has blessed, if not outright suggested, the replacement of Clifford Janey with an outsider who will take on the unions.
But here’s the thing. Newark teachers are not represented by the NJEA, which is adamantly opposed to merit pay and changes in tenure. The teachers union in Newark is the Newark Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. Joseph Del Grosso, President of the NTU, has already gone on record as saying he is in favor of merit pay and is open to negotiation on tenure and seniority. In fact, Mr. Del Grosso did so in the Wall Street Journal.
So it seems to me that we have political theater in the making, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal and Chris Christie. Clifford Janey is being singled out as a “careerist” who must go to make room for an education industry novice. And when that novice reaches an agreement with the NTU that includes merit pay and changes to tenure rules, the Wall Street Journal and the Governor will trumpet a victory over the status quo, a victory over public employee unions and a victory over “careerists” everywhere -- conveniently overlooking the fact that the key concessions were made during Janey’s time on the job.
The Wall Street Journal has already proclaimed Chris Christie a national hero on its editorial page. But this incident seems to suggest a certain give and take between the editorial staff and the Governor that bears watching. I just find it difficult to believe that, of all the public school “careerists” in the land, the Wall Street Journal chose to make an example of the same superintendent the Governor wants to replace.