Arbitrator orders Newark school district to rehire teacher fired under new tenure law

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for
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on November 21, 2014

NEWARK — Another state-appointed arbitrator has ordered Newark Public Schools to rehire a teacher the district tried to fire under New Jersey's new teacher tenure legislation.

Robert Simmelkjaer agreed with precedent set in an earlier arbitrator ruling that the district could not revoke tenure based on negative evaluations from the 2012-2013 school year because the state's revised teacher tenure law was not in effect at the start of the school year.

"The District has inappropriately utilized the 2012-13 annual summative evaluation of “partially effective” combined with the “partially ineffective” rating of 2013-14 to remove the Respondent," Simmelkjaer wrote in an opinion dated Nov. 19, 2014.

Under the ruling, the district must give former Lafayette Street Elementary School teacher Neil Thomas his job and any back pay he missed during his suspension.

I feel fantastic,” Thomas said in a brief interview.

Simmelkjaer ruling follows a similar ruling made last month in the Sandra Cheatham case.

"In regards to the recently released arbitration case involving an NPS teacher, we respectfully disagree with this decision as we have accurately applied the law and will consider our legal options regarding this individual case," chief talent officer Vanessa Rodriguez said in a statement.

"In the meantime, we will continue to implement the state recognized evaluation system throughout NPS and keep our strong focus on the success of students."

Under Teach NJ — the revised teacher tenure law— school districts were required to develop a four-point teacher rating system, which included highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective categories.

If a teacher received two consecutive years of a partially effective or ineffective ratings, he or she could be stripped of his or her job protection and allow the district to fire the teacher.

Dozens of other teachers in Newark face similar predicaments to Thomas and Cheatham.

“We’re gonna continue to win these case,” John Abeigon, director of operations at the Newark Teachers Union.

“The sad part is this is a district that claims to not have any money...This is money that is being thrown at connected law firms that could have been used back in schools."

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