Lack of contractual enforcement causes school district dispute

Even Facebook can't save struggling schools in New Jersey. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg generously donated $100 million toward schools in Newark's school district in 2010. However, a contract dispute between teacher unions and the district superintendent could lead to teacher layoffs.

The goal was to use the money to reform the school district. A 2012 contract backed by the state governor would allow peer reviews and merit pay among the teachers in the district. But teachers unions are putting up a fight because the contract would emphasize performance reviews. This means that a teacher could be laid off for poor performance even if he or she has tenure.

In fact, in order to close a budget gap of approximately $100 million, 30 percent of the district's teachers face layoffs over the next several years. At the same time, new teachers will be needed to teach difficult subjects. In addition, the layoffs are necessary in order to become more consistent with enrollment. Since 2003, student enrollment has been cut by more than half, from 75,000 to 36,000 students.

Who is to blame for the lack of contractual enforcement? Both sides are blaming each other. In any contract dispute, it can be important to review the obligations to which each side agreed and how they may or may not be met currently. In some situations, it may be possible to amend the contract based on realities that exist presently that weren't there at the beginning of the contract - negotiations between the parties may prove fruitful. However, if the parties can't agree to a new path forward, litigation may be appropriate to protect one's investment in the contract and ensure the best possible outcome.

Source: FOX News, " Dispute erupts over school reform in Newark, NJ," March 8, 2014

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