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Compromise 'Intervention' Bill Gains Support

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Three months after a controversial "school intervention" bill was defeated in the New Jersey Senate, Gov. Thomas H. Kean and several key lawmakers have crafted a compromise measure that has won the support of the state's powerful teachers' lobby.

The New Jersey Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, strongly opposed the initial version of the legislation, which would have allowed the state to assume complete control of "academically bankrupt" districts. The union argued that it would have undermined "the principle of tenure."

The compromise bill would retain tenure protections, such as dismissal hearings, for principals in districts taken over by the state. But it would expedite the dismissal proceedings so that they would not extend over a long period of time.

The state's Republican-controlled Assembly quickly approved the compromise measure Nov. 30, by a vote of 53 to 12.

The Senate education committee was expected to hold hearings on the two-bill package Dec. 7. A vote by the full Senate, which has a Democratic majority, is expected before the end of the year.

"We are now optimistic that we can get this legislation through the Senate by the end of the session," John Samerjan, a spokesman for4Governor Kean, said last week.

If approved, the intervention plan would require state officials to take complete control of academically failing districts for at least five years, and to dismiss all of the systems' school-board members and top-level administrators.

Passage of the legislation has been one of the influential Republican Governor's top priorities for the current two-year legislative session, which ends Jan. 11.

Intensive lobbying by the njea against the initial version of the intervention bill has been largely credited with securing its narrow defeat in the Senate in September. (See Education Week, Sept. 16, 1987.)

That vote came just six weeks before all state lawmakers were to stand for re-election.

The njea's opposition to the measure centered on a provision that would have required a state-appointed superintendent to evaluate all principals in failing districts and decide within a year whether to retain or fire them, sidestepping current tenure protections.

Key Compromise Provisions

Under the compromise worked out by the Governor's staff and the two Republican lawmakers who sponsored the original legislation--Assemblyman Joseph Palaia and Senator Jack Ewing--the process by which principals in state-controlled districts would be evaluated would remain essentially the same, but they would retain full tenure protections.

The hearing procedures guaranteed under the state's tenure law, however, would be shortened so that the whole dismissal process would be completed within 120 days. Currently, dismissal proceedings can take up to two years.

The compromise measure also stipulates that past evaluations of principals performed by district administrators who have been fired as a result of a state takeover may not be considered as evidence in dismissal proceedings. Principals, however, may present as evidence evaluations performed by district administrators retained by the state after a takeover.

Under the initial legislation, no evaluations performed prior to a state takeover were to be admissible evidence in dismissal proceedings.

'No Real Differences'

"We came up with some language changes that we thought would address the concerns of the organizations," said Jaynee LaVecchia, assistant counsel to Governor Kean. "In our way of looking at it, there are no real differences."

"The Governor is strongly backing this bill," said Mr. Samerjan.

Dennis Giordano, president of the 124,000-member njea, said last week that he was "delighted that recognition has been given to our concerns."

"My organization was never officially opposed to intervention per se," he said. "When they presented us with this new version of the bill, we scrutinized it and concluded that there had been a sincere effort made to protect due process and the integrity of the tenure statute."

"We are now clearly on record supporting this bill," he said.

The New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, which also opposed the initial legislation, has said that it, too, supports the compromise measure.

Tumultuous History

Mr. Kean's proposal has had a long and tumultuous history.

Last spring, the Senate passed an amended version of the bill that reinstated tenure protections for principals and district administrators. In a procedural move, the Assembly--which had already approved the original version of the plan--concurred with the Senate's changes and sent the amended bill to the Governor's desk.

Mr. Kean, who has been a national advocate for state intervention in academically failing districts, conditionally vetoed the bill and sent it back to the legislature in its original form. Preserving tenure protections, he had said, would make it too difficult to fire incompetent principals.

The Assembly narrowly sustained the veto before recessing for the summer. But on Sept. 10, the Senate defeated the measure by a vote of 21 to 18.

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