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NJEA responds to Christie's heavy criticism

keshishian012210_optGovernor's administration takes their shots at state teachers union

BY TOM HESTER SR.
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

Under public pressure from Gov. Chris Christie to renegotiate contracts with local school boards and being accused by him as part of the problem of high education costs and not part of the solution, the 200,000-member state teachers' union criticized him in return Friday.

New Jersey Education Association President Barbara Keshishian said Christie has chosen the welfare of residents who earn over $400,000 annually over full school funding for the benefit of children.

"The choice could not be more stark: tax cuts for millionaires, or full school funding for New Jersey kids,'' Keshishian said. "Just a few weeks into his term Governor Christie has staked out his position, slashing nearly $1.5 billion from state aid to schools and higher education.

"At the same time, he has rejected out of hand any consideration of reinstating a very modest tax on the very wealthiest New Jersey residents, those making more than $400,000 per year,'' she said. "Last year, that surcharge generated nearly $1 billion in revenue for the state, enough to close much of the hole that his reckless budget opened in local school budgets.''

In an effort to present a balanced $29.3 billion 2010-11 state budget, Christie has proposed cutting $819 million in school aid, $446 million in local government aid, and $170 million in aid to colleges. The budget proposal is expected to spark an average property tax hike of $250.

"Those two decisions - to slash funding for schools and to deliver generous tax cuts for the super wealthy - are so far out of the mainstream in New Jersey that the governor is attempting to distract New Jerseyans from the real issue,'' Keshishian said. "For the last several days, his distraction of choice has been to attack teachers and school employees, claiming that we - not his misguided priorities — are the reason that schools face deep and painful cuts that are going to hurt kids.

"I understand politics, and I understand Governor Christie's tactics,'' Keshishian said. "If I were cutting funds from schools to provide tax cuts to the wealthy, I'd be looking for a distraction too. I wouldn't want people focusing on the consequences for students and I wouldn't want people asking why millionaires get a pass when everyone else is being asked to share in the sacrifice. I wouldn't want to answer for why teachers and staff will be laid off, why class sizes will go up, why academic programs will be cut, or why valuable extracurricular activities will be cut. I wouldn't want to have to justify slamming doors in the faces of college students who just want to get the training and education they need to prepare for today's jobs and help grow our economy back to health.''

Keshishian described Christie as a shrewd politician who is using political tactics to impose his agenda on the state.

"But when he turned his attack machine on teachers and school employees, he really stooped to a desperate new low, because our members are not the problem,'' Keshishian said. "So when the governor takes shot after shot at school employees, sneering that they don't work very hard or proclaiming that they just don't care about students, it's an unfair and unwarranted attack on people who have dedicated their lives to educating the children of our state.''

In response to the criticism, Michael Drewniak, Christie's press secretary, pointed out that teachers, NJEA union members, in the Boonton school district on Thursday agreed to a wage freeze and other concessions to save 25 jobs.

"That is incredibly laudable and responsible,'' Drewniak said. "In places like Boonton and other districts we see teachers and school boards coming to the table, sharing in sacrifice, and protecting education resources — including teachers' jobs.

"These are individuals truly acting in the interests of the children,'' he added. " In contrast, we have the NJEA leadership thwarting consideration of compromise at any cost and leaving school boards no alternatives as they attempt to prevent the loss of teachers, staff and even education programs. It's mind-boggling that they care so little about their colleagues' jobs. These are unprecedented times of financial distress. If we can't get reasonable accommodation now from the NJEA, that just says all the public needs to know about the group's leadership tactics and transparent motivations. It is laughable when they claim it's about the kids. It's about money and self-interest at any cost — as long as the cost isn't to them.''

State Education Commissioner Bret Schundler Friday blamed the NJEA for playing a role in the state losing the chance to receive $400 million in federal education aid through President Obama's "Race to the Top'' initiative.

"I was disappointed the grant application put in by the Corzine administration failed, but I was not surprised,'' Schundler said in a op-ed column. "For a state's grant application to be approved, the Obama administration requires that local school and teacher union leaders commit to support the initiative's objectives. The application for funds put in by New Jersey had phenomenal support from local school board presidents and superintendents, but very little from union leaders. This doomed New Jersey's application and cost our public schools hundreds of millions of dollars. The reason the New Jersey Education Association encouraged local union leaders not to support Obama's program is that it requires grant-receiving school districts to take student learning into account when evaluating the performance of teachers. The union fears that school districts will judge teachers unfairly.''

Schundler said his department will be submitting a second grant application for federal Race To The Top dollars. "I would like to implore the NJEA to support the state's resubmission," he said. "The union's support will open the door to hundreds of millions of federal dollars flowing to our schools. Our New Jersey schools need this money. Moreover, the Obama administration has signaled that, going forward, an increasingly large share of federal education dollars will be tied to the very same requirements. If the NJEA holds fast to its current position, not just hundreds of millions of dollars, but ultimately billions of federal education dollars, could end up going elsewhere.''

 
Comments (7)
7 Monday, 05 April 2010 13:40
Dude Abides
Average NJ Property tax last year was $7,281, an increase of 72% since 1999, when it was $4,239. I wonder where most of that goes.

Oh and tax the rich concept? The NJEA may want to study on on the elasticity of taxable income (ETI). A study by MIT economist Jon Gruber and Mr. Saez showed that for incomes above $350,000, they estimated the ETI at 0.62. And for incomes above $500,000, US Treasury economist Bradley Heim estimated the ETI at 1.2 -- which means higher tax rates on the super-rich yield less revenue than lower tax rates. What happens is that the more you tax people, the less they make. Two income families chose one income, workers max out 401Ks, etc.
6 Monday, 29 March 2010 10:20
Katie1977
I am a former NJ teacher and have taught in two other states as well. There is no question that teachers' total compensation packages are low. If we have a shortage of teachers we need to increase the total overall compensation.

Now, there are some issues here. First, NJEA is fear-mongering. I taught in MA where every teacher pays 25% of healthcare and 11% of their salaries to the pension fund. MA ranks right up there with NJ as having the best public school system when we look at student performance.

We should also pay teachers based on supply and demand. If we have 300 applicants for a history position and 10 for a science position we should be offering more pay to the science teacher. Universities use this approach and it works.

Why should a single teacher not be rewarded for saving the district healthcare costs versus a teacher with four total members on the policy? This is why a healthcare contribution is critical and fair.

Increase wages, pay a portion of healthcare!
5 Sunday, 28 March 2010 10:24
Kathy Smith
All teachers do not feel this way. Many teachers, though we disagree with the extent of Christie's cuts, would GLADLY freeze our salaries to save jobs and programs for the kids. Our union is not giving us that option. The powers that be have made the decision to not freeze salaries. There was not even a vote by the members before this decision was reached.Many of my coworkers feel the same way, but scare tactics are everywhere. Teachers are told if they open up their contracts, the school board will "take everything" from them. The union is fearful of losing power. Very distressing was an article where Vince Giordano was quoted as saying that the union contributes a great deal to the politicians campaigns and "expects a certain level of respect", Does that mean that $$$$ correspond to the politicians being puppets. The whole thing is disgusting. Christie is not blameless - nor is the NJEA....problem is the kids will be the ones to lose, and the teachers who will lose their jobs.
4 Saturday, 27 March 2010 15:45
jcat
Why are some now looking at taking away what little we compensate our teachers? I find this question most revealing.

When the economy was good, people in the corporate/business world made tons of money either directly or indirectly by the selling of bad mortgages. What goes along with making tons of money is less job security, and possible cuts when the economy turns bad—this is understood. Did school systems get extra money during this time? Did teachers get an extra salary increase or extra benefits that were inline with the great money made in the corporate world?

Tax payers, administrators, and teachers all understood the social and moral agreement --

Give teachers:
1. the opportunity to do what they love--teach kids,
2. given them job security, and
3. and give them a decent salary, benefits, and a pension to make up for the low salary.

That was the deal. All of which was understood to be independent from the greater economy.

The recent series of job cuts goes against this deal. Cutting benefits for teachers goes against this deal. The corporate types are doing what they do best, again! In order to raise some money, perhaps we should package poor school systems in NJ, slap some false descriptions on them as the bankers did with bad mortgages, and sell them to places like China and India—isn’t that the way?
3 Saturday, 27 March 2010 13:58
Typical Teacher
I am a New Jersey teacher who hears so many lies. First, the state is not broke over my benefits. In my district we have given up larger pay raises to keep our modest benefits. No vision, limited dental. A benefit package that we do pay into! In 20 years, the most I have ever received in a raise was 3.5%. However, you will read that teachers often receive much higher raises. Often my raise was in the hundreds each year not thousands. The highest possible salary a teacher can make in my district is $78, 000. I have taught for 20 years and because of constant changes to the guide, I am 4 steps away from the top salary. I can't afford to live in my own district so I live out of state. Go ahead and attack me for stealing your dollars.
For all of my career I have loved my job while at the same time wondered why I didn't choose something more profitable like most of my friends. When have you ever heard someone say, " I wanted to get rich so I became a teacher." Now although most of my friends make tons more than myself, and will continue to have more earning power, I am the problem to New Jerseys financial problems?? It is easy to blame the little guy.
As for the NJEA, we have to pay dues to our association. It is taken from my paycheck automatically. I am not allowed to choose if I want to be a part of the association or not. What does the NJEA do with my money? I have no idea. The last thing I got into teaching for was to be involved with any type of teacher unions. I like most other teachers I work with pay not attention to the NJEA. I pay attention to the kids and families in my classroom. I do as my boss, my principal instructs me to do.
Freeze my salary? Fine if it will save jobs. Otherwise no. Tell the Governor to freeze his salary and the rest of the Government officials. That won't effect kids and families.
Everything we built is going to be gone. Strive to be the best and this is what we end up with. A Governor looking to make a name for himself in spite of the kids and families in New Jersey. It is all ego and lies.
2 Saturday, 27 March 2010 08:05
Ryfry
Wage freezes and paying a portion of your health care coverage are common in the private sector. NJEA needs to realize that the status quo is not an option. I am attending my local school board meeting this week to weigh in on cuts to our local district. Rumors are that many teachers are slated to be cut. Administrators need to take their fair share of the pain too and i am not sure that is happening. Another welcome rumor is that many of the teachers may be saved because the local bargaining unit of NJEA has agreed to a wage freeze. that would indeed be welcomed news. Perhaps the local units will help to transform and inform the larger NJEA. If it is all about the kids then contributing to health care benefits and accepting a wage freeze should be a no brainer..
1 Saturday, 27 March 2010 07:48
OpressedTaxpayer
My small business has closed down, I have let go 13 employees and we are leaving the state in May because business AND proporty taxes are too high for survival. We don't have enough money to afford the mortgage and taxes. These taxes are largely PROPERTY and BUSINESS TAXES, which keep increasing year after year after year. The proporty values have dropped because of the recession and because nobody wants to buy a hightly taxed house in NJ right now. The public education system in NJ bases growth on the ability of property owners to shoulder every increase in taxes dished out, in addition to relying on state aid which is almost totally out of funds. NJ IS NEARLY BANKRUPT, with businesses and private property owners leaving the state and taking BILLIONS of revenue dollars with them. Revenue has dropped signifciantly, and continues to bleed money as people and businesses leave NJ. The plan to give those with over $400,000 a tax break might help some employers stay here and create jobs. MOST jobs are in the PRIVATE sector, not the public sector, and there is a declining source for any more harvesting of property owners and businesses to provide outrageous public funds. In simple words, THE WELL HAS RUN DRY.

I personally pay $2300 per month for private healthcare for my small family, PLUS another $1000 per month in property taxes. Thats a total of nearly $40,000 per year just for healthcare and property taxes!! Why am I ALSO paying for FREE health insurance for public workders and 5% raises every year out my tax dollars?? Don't lay them off, let the teachers help each other keep their jobs by cutting the crazy yearly increases and free healthcare for some of them and for the administrators who REFUSE to even discuss this problem. THE NJEA should encourage school workers to contribute the 1.5 % chump change toward their FREE health benefits, or to give them a year off from dues payments so they can stay even. The union is not helping the children.

We the people, are disgusted and fed up with being abused by this system, which is so out of control. We are moving from NJ and will probably never return. The dollars lost from families like us will have to be replaced by other enlsaved tax victims if you want to maintain your rich public lifestyles. Try replacing your income and benefits in the private sector. In today's economy, you will find 1000 appliants for every decent job available, and even if you qualified in the private sector, you would most likely foot at least 50% of your yearly medical costs. Also, there are very few jobs available now paying 40 or 50 thousand bucks a year.

Property owners are disgusted and looking for permanent change in this oppressive, anti-business, anti-family environment. If NJ does not help business thrive without these ridiculous taxes, there will be no jobs added, and finally, no schools if businesses leave NJ taking the jobs and tax money with them. Foreclosures are mounting, and property owners are finding that the high property taxes are turning buyers away before they even get in the door to see how the kitchen and bathrooms look.

John Q. Public

Mad as hell.

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