The WSJ today had a fascinating article about how hard it is to fire teachers, particularly ones with tenure, in NJ. James Smith, the head of security of Paterson NJ’s public schools, gave a great insight to the protections offered to teachers, even when they are blatantly abusing their position:

Trying to get rid of teachers is “10 times more difficult than any criminal case I’ve ever worked on,” he said.

One recent case the retired police captain points to is that of a special-education teacher who for years had been accused by students, parents and other teachers of hitting students. The case dragged on for four years and cost Paterson more than $400,000 to finally get the teacher dismissed. That included more than $280,000 the teacher collected in salary (even though he was no longer working) while the case was argued.

Mr. Smith, 55 years old, estimates that he has filed one to two tenure charges a year—usually in cases where teachers won’t resign when confronted with his allegations.Few in New Jersey attempt what Mr. Smith does. In 2008, the last year for which the state Department of Education provides statistics, only 35 tenure cases were filed in the state. Nineteen resulted in the loss of tenure. There are more than 120,000 teachers in the state, and more than 600 school districts. Paterson is one of the state’s largest districts, with 52 schools and 24,000 students.

He said he stands out because he employs his police skills, and said it would be hard for principals to know how to do the same. “Just like I wouldn’t know what the benchmarks are for reading in the fourth grade,” Mr. Smith said, most school districts lack the expertise to successfully dismiss teachers.

For one, witnesses have to be found and interviewed. Sometimes, he said, they are afraid to come forward. In those cases, he uses what he calls his “people skills,” assuring the witnesses—whether fellow teachers, students or parents—that he will “be there for them every step of the way” when they testify.

The article is well-worth reading and gives great insights to the perversion that is ubiquitous in heavily unionized school districts. Smith is doing a great job by making sure students don’t have to be abused or given a shoddy education thanks to some arm-twisting union leader. While Chris Christie may be the face of reform in NJ, it’s people like Smith who are making it work.


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