Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Debate of the Week: Gov. Christie vs. the NJEA

Debate of the Week will be a weekly feature, hopefully. It all depends on the participation of you, the reader. Please comment below. Remember to keep it civil. Don't assume anything about the people you disagree with. I will delete any comments that are offensive or veer too far off topic. Thank you in advance.

This week I'm offering up the war between New Jersey's new Republican governor, Chris Christie, and the state teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association. Christie has proposed cutting school aid and is taking on the NJEA, pushing a salary freeze and cuts in benefits to help reduce the state's budget deficit. The NJEA is standing firm and claims Christie is scapegoating it, and its president, Barbara Keshishian, has called for Christie to reinstate the so-called millionaire's tax, which actually targets annual incomes of $400,000 and more.

Where do you stand? With Christie? With the NJEA? Somewhere in between? What reforms, if any, are needed?

Let the debate begin.

UPDATE: Thanks to Eddie for this link. Seriously, Bergen County Education Association?


  1. To attack teachers as the reason why the state is in such dire straits is backwards and almost begs further investigation into its origins. This governor lets a tax break for the richest population expire yet wants to attack the benefits, salaries and very positions of teachers. Teachers? Really? I make $48,000 a year, and I'm in my 6th year of teaching. Please Governor, tell me where I can get a $90,000 salary as a teacher?

    Heres some ideas: 1. reinstate the tax on the rich. 2. Allow those who hold multiple state positions to only collect from their highest pension. 3. NO MORE PENSIONS FOR FELONS AT ANY LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT. 4. Cut from the top in eduction. No more supervisors to the supervisor, to the supervisor.

    But then again again, thats just common sense. Something were not allowed to teach the children.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    I totally agree with all of your ideas, but can you clarify something? Maybe I missed a quote or a news story, but where exactly did you get the info on the governor going after teachers such as yourself?

    I understand the financial position the state is in and am open to ideas on fixing the problem. I've seen the powerful and costly NJEA attacked and heard arguments for consolidating the administration for the many costly districts that exist. Those are all cuts that can be made that could free up additional money for teachers and school programs. However, it seems to be the individuals in those high-paying and duplicative roles who put teachers and school programs on the cutting block to save their own jobs. The governor may be proposing less funding, but it is not his call how that money is used.

    I've heard many teachers come out against the governor and his proposals... because their union told them to. The NJEA uses fear to get teachers on their side. What scares me is that so many blindly believe what the NJEA says is true instead of looking closer at what this powerful institution is saying and why.

    Despite how many times I've heard the argument "you're not in education, you don't know what you're talking about," I contend the State of New Jersey, and our entire educational system, has to do the same thing many companies have been forced to do -- think out of the box and find ways to do more with less. The only disadvantage I have from not being "in education" is the NJEA hasn't told me what I should think.

  3. Just want to pose this question to teachers. If the governor said, "I will allocate X amount of money to the school system as long as teachers did not get a pay increase for one year", would you agree? Meaning if Christie agrees to help improve schools, increase programs, and decrease school district budget deficits if teachers agree not to get a raise for one year, would you do it?

    I do agree that most superintendents and supervisors in education are sucking out tons of funds, and that needs to stop, but I also think like Eddie does in that we need to think of the educational system like a company. At my last job I offered to not take a raise one year if the funds could be spent to improve my department, add some technology to improve effectiveness, and ultimately make my life easier. If funds could be spent to make a teacher's life easier for a few years, I think it would be worth not getting a pay increase for one year.

  4. Teachers, I understand you feel you're under attack, but it's time to look within your own ranks for why. In many NJ districts the teachers are refusing to negotiate any terms and the result is their colleagues are being fired. My sister watched her colleagues all vote not to reopen their contracts, and now she's out of a job. I would take a pay freeze in a heartbeat to save a co-worker, so their actions are truly baffling to me. And as a journalist, I understand what it's like to be underpaid (I started at HALF of what my sister did), and I still would take a freeze for the benefit of someone else.

    I'm not sure why teachers are immune to fiscal realities, and I'm also confused why the minute anyone asks a question, he or she is immediately branded "anti teacher."

  5. I am a teacher, although, at a private school and not part of the NJEA, so I may come from a different perspective. I do not feel Christie is making it his personal mission to attack teachers. Although, when it comes to politics, education is something that is always cut back in a budget crisis. The way money is spent within districts can be absolutely ridiculous as well. I know because I have seen it. In addition, administrators, supervisors, etc., get paid ridiculous amounts of money. Personally, when it comes to a teaching position, you should get raises based on performance, just like any other job. Performance should not be based on your class' test scores, but on your lesson planning, teaching, attempts to improve, etc. Ten year should be tossed out the window. It should be like any other career path. If you are good at what you do and you are dedicated than you will keep your job and move up. Maybe than we will get rid of bad teachers and get more good ones within the state.

  6. I haven't had a raise in about three years because the company didn't hit its revenue goals. When companies are struggling financially, that's what they do: freeze pay and -- often -- cut jobs. The people who have been there longer don't expect to get their 4 percent raise at the cost of the new guys' jobs. But the teachers who are left will.
    The NJEA, one of the most powerful unions in the state(if not THE most powerful) has done NOTHING but whine. Are they trying to help the nontenureds keep their jobs? No! They got their one to three years of dues, so what do they care. Just bitch and moan and say what a victim you are.
    No one's crying for raise-less me. No one's starting facebook pages for me.
    I work 12 months out of the year not (barely) 10. I don't get summer vacation or spring break. I work weekend days. If it's a sunny day or there are 12 feet of snow on the ground, I'm still expected to get my ass to work. No snow days for me so I can bitch about how this is now going to cut into my beach time later.
    I know how good teachers have it. I'm married to one who (thank God) had a job in the real world before he went to the classroom full time. He knows how good he has it. He knows what it's like outside those protected walls. Free health care and free pensions. Awww, they didn't pay enough? Name another state where the teachers get that deal ... You can't. Doesn't exist!!
    I know we live in a society of victims, but I'm really irks me that the people molding our young peoples' minds are casting themselves as the biggest ones when they should be down on their damn knees every day thankful for what they continue to have!

  7. ok Mike you won, i will try and keep it clean, and on topic.

    As i see it, new jersey has managed to reinvent the feudal system in a modern age. we have allowed our government as a whole get so big, that now we dont know what to do with it. I think Chirstie has decided to start with education, because it probably has the biggest amount of tax money.

    NJ has over 650 municipalities which run 650 different ways. most of those municipalities have their own indivdual services, which in turn cost more money. To stay more on topic, i will keep to education, but there are a ton of ways to save money for almost every department.

    There are 620ish school districts. That means that there are 620 superintendents of schools which are all doing THE SAME JOB. Couldnt we eliminated enough of those jobs so that each county ran the school system, or perhaps a few regional systems in each county. this isnt a new concept, as almost 95% of the usa run education in this manner. Funny thing is the only other state that runs individual education systems is california, and they're in much more debt than we are.
    Many say that if we regionalize schools that individual town and schools will lose their identity. I believe that this is a farce, a way to avoid change.

    I will say that the individual teacher is not to blame. Overpaid, underworked administraion is single handedly killing the tax money for our childrens education.

    the state should also look to cappping the retirement income for many highly paid administrators. the pension system is being overburdened by administrators who are making 150,000 a year, RETIRED, because they were making over 200,000 a year when they were working. this is absurd, and not who the pension system was geared toward.

    i will give credit to that most teachers are hard working, and are very dedicated to their students. the problem is that with cuts coming, its the teachers and programs that will suffer, not the very well paid administrator.

    i am a firm believer in regionalization (OUCH i sad the word) of many services in new jersey. it is the only plausible way that i can see the state righting itself. the biggest obstacle for true governament reform isnt the government, but the people who elect it.

    thx for letting me vent, and i apologize for the ramblings as it was a particularly busy shift. if anyone would like any further info or ideas email me at nfdhomer@yahoo.com. thx allfrey

  8. Quite frankly, I'm more against the hate-filled invective that I've been hearing used in conjunction with those who have chosen to educate the youth of our state than I am with the pay issue. Am I willing to take a pay freeze? Sorry folks, but for the past five years I already have. I only get a real increase every five years for my longevity, so my last increase was five years ago. I'm due for my next (and last) this coming year. To not take it would have a lasting impact on my pension (and no, folks, I will not be retiring in style, I'll still have to work part time after I retire), as it is these last three years of income which will determine what I get for the rest of my life. Would I ask that the salary guide remain the same when we negotiate the next contract if it would help? Sure, but let me ask you this: When times were good and we asked for more money, we were told no, but that it would be made up for with our pension and benefits. So we took lower increases, even when the economy was booming and we could have gotten much more in the private sector. We believed the promise. So once the economy rebounds, are those who belittle us for holding fast to the promises made to us willing to make up for these "sacrifices?" Even if they would, those like me would simply be out of luck, because we'll be gone. There'd be no way for me to make up what I would lose, and I feel a career in service to the future should not be repaid by spending my "golden years" eating cat food and living on food stamps. Is that how we thank those who spend their lives preparing others to take their places in society??

    Anyway, yes, I am thankful I chose this profession. In our district, we knew we were lucky and started a program where we already give part of our salaries back to the community in charitable donations taken right out of our paychecks. We volunteer; we give money to EVERY charity the kids collect for and we have payroll deductions to give back as well. Our pensions aren't free, by the way. We contribute to them our entire career. Our health benefits now are no longer "free" and that's okay with me too. I understand that necessity and don't have a problem with it. But tell me I don't deserve the raise I've waited five years for, the raise that might make my pension calculation something I can live with and only have to work part time after retirement, and I will not be at peace with that.

  9. Part 2
    You know, people are very quick to criticize public education and hold up other countries as models for what they think education should be. What they never notice is the respect teachers are given simply by virture of being teachers in every country but ours. It's truly a shame. Our culture is to blame for so much of what is wrong with our society, education included.

    Speaking of education, while I hear so much chatter about how "awful" education is, yet the schools in NJ are at the top when it comes to SAT scores and graduation rates. How are we so awful then?

    Oh, and one last thing...the whole 10 months a year thing. Up until this year, I worked all summer teaching summer school because if I didn't I couldn't pay any bills in July and August. This year I have to take a loan because our summer school is gone with the budget cuts. But even though I won't be in a school building, I'll be working, as I do every summer. Rereading books, revising lesson plans, and making sure that my lessons are updated for a new batch of students. I do not rest on my laurels, using the same tired plans year after year, becoming one of those teachers who relies on dittos and handouts that have been in a file drawer for twenty years or more. Good teachers work for 12 months every year, even though we are only paid for 10. We go in early to set up our rooms, we stay late to give extra help or grade papers, and we work late into the night during the school year, all with no overtime or bonuses. This is not a complaint. It is merely a statement of fact.

    So there is my side of the issue. Do I deserve the money I make? I worked in the private sector for ten years before I joined the teaching profession. I have never worked harder than I do as a teacher, no matter what other industry I worked at. And I have never loved my job more.

  10. Damnit, I have more to say.

    It's about the whole tenure issue. Having been nontenured twice in my career, I know the benefits of being a tenured teacher, one who can be free to be as creative as her students need her to be without fear of being terminated simply because someone in charge doesn't like what she does. Or says. Or the way she dresses. Tenure, however, is a double-edged sword. It is in place to ensure fair treatment for all, however, I do see it abused. It most certainly does not guarantee us a job for life, however it is still an arduous task to get rid of bad teachers. And yes, there are bad teachers. There is a procedure in place to get rid of them, but most administrators don't want to follow that procedure because it's time conusming and requires a lot of work. I say tough. Do the work and jettison the teachers who are so obviously not doing their job that everyone in the building knows it and is angered by it.

    So there. I'm a teacher who relies on tenure to allow her to do her job, but thinks that those who don't want to do the job should be let go.

  11. I think we've gotten a bit off topic here. I can't blame anyone who works hard for a living, no matter what position they may hold, for wanting to do better for themselves and their families. It's the whole point of working, right?

    But teachers... what say you to other ways to cut back? Who's really making the decision to not give you a raise or eliminate your job? Do you vote the way the NJEA tells you to? Why? What do you think of regionalization? What suggestions do you bring to the table?

  12. Well, some of the views I've posted are already against the NJEA "Party Line" in that I question the use of tenure. I do listen very closely to my union as they back certain candidates, but I vote my own conscience. Nobody tells me for whom to cast my vote. I am thankful for my union as I know they will support me if I need them. What many people don't realize is that teachers are in precarious positions. Everything we do can be called into question, and many people do not realize the legalities of which we must be constantly mindful. Many times I've seen colleagues called into meetings because parents have taken something out of context and went into attack mode against the teacher for something quite innocent. It's good to know our union will be there to support us, as our jobs expose us to constant scrutiny.

    Regionalization is a difficult issue. I teach in a regional high school district-we have six high schools in our district. This can work for us when it comes to saving some money but the idea of some detatched "Central Office" dictating policy and curriculum can be a bit 1984-y sometimes. And even in our large regional district, there seems to be a lot of weight at the top. When I taught in a much smaller school, I had more instructional freedom, but less means with which to carry out my vision. And even in that little district there was a great deal of waste at the top.

    And no matter where you look, parents can be the imputeus for job loss too. In our district, we had a wonderful program that acted as an inexpensive preschool for many young children, since it was part of our Child Development courses at the high school level. High school kids had to provide lesson plans and worked with the kids under the supervision of their classroom teacher. The program has been scrapped because one parent wanted to bring a child in who had severe airborne allergies and could not be safely provided for in the classroom situation. Seriously, if you had a child with a life threatening condition, would you want them in the care of students learning how to deal with children? So now that whole program is gone, and perhaps the teachers with it; teachers with over 20 years of experience; who were five years from retirement. Who invested their lives into this program and into their careers.

    So my suggestions for the current issue are only that...suggestions. I suggest we cut a lot of fat from the top. I suggest that we shouldn't have done away with that "Millionaire Tax" right now while things are so bad. I suggest that we look to the legislators to see what perks and cuts could be had there. I don't mind tightening my belt, but right now it's cutting off my circulation and I'd like to see some belt tightening from those who are asking me to tighten mine.

  13. Since Facebook debate led to this discussion, I thought I'd share...


  14. hey charli,

    i just wanted to re-affirm my position that its not the teachers that are really the problem. i know that you have seen the wasteful admin. at the top of every school district. i know that in the ditrict i work in, they have the super, like 2 asst. supers, principals in every school, mulitple asst principals, and lord knows what else. the best is when there is a problem, nobody has the ability to make a decision on there own. its a long line of let me call him to see what he says, or ill send her an email.

    as for the big "R" its something that i think they should look into. especially when it comes to public works, refuse, recycling etc. how many people can we put in charge of garbage collection in each town before people wake up.

    i still luv ya charli, keep your head up


  15. Thanks, Chris! And you haven't seen waste till you've seen a regional district in action. There are people in central office I've never met, I have no idea what they do, and things still get screwed up. They made errors on my paychecks for the first four checks of 2010 this year...big ones. And getting those fixed took a minor miracle. Too many chiefs and not enough indians, I think. Hmm...that may now be considered a racist statement, but it gets the point across. We need some new, politically correct cliches!

  16. This is from a friend of mine who's a Jersey City teacher:

    I generally don't participate is these debates because of some fundamental problems in the system that are not being addressed (and probably can't be addressed). Problem No. 1 is that american citizens in general and urban parents in particular do not respect the institution of public education. Problem No. 2 is that most school administrators are primarily focused on issues that, shall we say, have llittle or nothing to do with serving the best interests of the students (Jeff, that wording is for you.)

    I find that I can do the most good by focusing on what I can provide my students and my student/athletes and trying to help other teachers get better at their craft. I find my frustration level gets too great if I expand my universe much beyond that.

  17. Also of note, former Keansburg superintendent Barbara Trzeszkowski giving up her "golden parachute":


    "The deal between Trzeszkowski, the state and the Keansburg school board provides her with $50,000 to help cover her legal fees. She is still entitled to accrued vacation and sick time of more than $184,000 and an annual pension of about $104,000, the governor’s office said in a statement."

    It still sounds pretty "golden" to me. And can someone please explain to me how she and many other municipal officials are able to collect these huge accrued vacation and sick time payouts? My experience in the private sector has mainly been "use it or lose it" on an annual basis when it comes to vacation/sick time.

  18. I tend to agree more with allfrey. Regionalization is the way to go...I believe (not to get off topic) that there are a lot of municipal services that could be regionalized in addition to school boards. But that would be hitting the politicians in their pockets...with so much neoptisim in the state, you start with laying off state workers, and you've actually laid off half your family. Again, I digress. Sorry...I truly believe that the NJEA is the source of most of the educational problems in the state and christie is targeting education cuts in the right area. Another way to cut spending is to then send auditors to all the schools starting at the high school level and see that cuts can be made there as well such as assistant principals, assistants to the assistant principals...you get the point. There is a multitude of bureaucratic layers inside the schools as well as at the NJEA. A lot can be done without the teachers losing out.

  19. This debate has encompassed a wide variety of individuals from across the spectrum -- teachers, skeptics, company men, and the unemployed. The problem with this blog is that all here are open-minded and think with common sense. So despite the varying backgrounds and beliefs, even we were able to agree on several points. We are in the minority.

    Those who will decide the outcome of this debate either care less about the ideas than they do about the party of the person making them, or they listen to whatever their coworkers or unions tell them, oblivious to whatever bias created or spun that point of view.

    I want to thank The Colonel for breaking through a world of "Christie is a fat f***," and "you are all Republican Jews" and providing this space for an intelligent debate. I look forward to future discussions.

  20. Yes, thank you everybody for participating and keeping a civil, adult tone. I'll have a new topic up next week!

  21. Well, Christie is a fat f'er, but that only matters in the debate of him lowering the tax on tasty cakes.

  22. speaking of which...



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