NEWARK, N.J. – Newark parents want the state to do away with union seniority rules when schools are required to layoff teachers to balance the budget, and they’ve produced a video to explain why.

The Partnership for Educational Justice sued the state last year on behalf of six Newark parents who are concerned about how union rules impact the quality of education in the district, and the video – “New Jersey’s Harmful Teacher Layoff Law” – puts the issue into perspective for parents.

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“Parents, did you know that some of New Jersey’s school districts are facing a terrible budget crisis that will force them to lay off teachers?” the video, posted to YouTube Monday, asked. “Did you also know that state law mandates that teachers must be laid off based only on seniority?

“The law is called last in, first out. It prohibits school districts from considering how good or bad teachers are. This law is bad for students and unfair for some of New Jersey’s most qualified teachers.

“In Newark, under the current law, 85 percent of teachers who stand to lose their jobs have been rated effective and highly effective by their principals,” it continued. “That’s hundreds of our best teachers being taken away from our children.”

PEJ executive director Ralia Polechronis told the video is an especially important message to parents at a time when Newark schools is working to plug a $30 million budget gap that will undoubtedly require officials to lay off teachers, though district officials have yet to announce their plans.

“This law is hurting kids at a constitutional level,” she said. “The issue is very timely … and critical for this coming school year.”

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“If any layoffs come through and this law is in place, I’m afraid for the children,” said Fareeah Harris, one of the plaintiffs in the PEJ lawsuit.

The video explained:

“If schools were allowed to consider how well a teacher teaches, they could keep their best educators in classrooms with students. …

“With great teachers, students learn more, are more likely to graduate high school, attend college, and earn a higher salary. New Jersey’s education laws should protect students first.”

Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon has a different perspective, and argued that protecting senior tenured teachers is more important.

“There’s no evidence there that Newark students are systematically deprived of qualified teachers,” he said. “If teachers did not have seniority and contract protections in this state, they would be fired in a heartbeat, regardless of their rating, just to appease budgets.”

Union tenure laws, in place in virtually all unionized public school systems, not only force districts like Newark to focus on seniority rather than teaching ability during layoffs, but also protect misbehaving tenured teachers from termination, a reality that currently costs Newark schools $8 million a year. reports:

Newark spent millions on a pool of “educators without placements” who were languishing without assignments. Most were displaced by school closures, poor performance or ongoing tenure charges.

In the last two years, the district reduced the pool, returning many educators to the classroom. There’s only about 100 people left in the pool with a combined salary of $8 million, down from $35 million in 2014, (Newark superintendent Christopher) Cerf said.

Cerf would not reveal whether the district’s $30 million budget gap will necessitate teacher layoffs for 2017-18, but said LIFO is “absolutely hurting us” by forcing the district to employ more teachers than needed simply to avoid laying off high performing teachers to protect senior employees.

And Polechronis pointed out the district can no longer afford to pay tenured teachers – with their large salaries – if they’re not getting the job done.

“The workaround the district has used isn’t going to cut it anymore,” she said. “We’re hitting that trigger point now.”