They KNOW they are taking the taxpayers for a ride - They KNOW they are using the contractual obligations to make sure they get a lifetime ride on the taxpayers - They KNOW that they are acting like they have some "Divine Right" to be insulated from the downturn in our economy even though every other citizen has had to take a serious hit to their lifestyle...
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the voice of reason that is needed....He has taken on the NJ Teacher's Union and I hope he is successful because we need to wrest control of the Schools away from the Unions who don't want accountability or excellence in education, only MORE of your $$$$$.
Governor Christie's Ultimate Test
By MONICA LANGLEY
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, shown holding a town hall meeting in Scotch Plains, N.J., on Thursday, has seen his star rise nationally.
TRENTON, N.J.—He says she's a "greedy thug" who uses children as "drug mules." She says he's a "bully" and a "liar" who's "obsessed with a vendetta."
Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, and Barbara Keshishian, president of the state's teachers union, say they want to improve public schools. That's where agreement ends. In speeches, mailings and multi-million dollar TV ads, they've battled over teacher salaries, property taxes and federal education grants. They have met once, an encounter that ended when Mr. Christie threw Ms. Keshishian out of his office.
For Mr. Christie, 48 years old, the fight is part policy, part personality. He quickly has positioned himself as a politician in tune with an angry and impatient electorate, and he's already mentioned as a 2012 presidential candidate. He's well aware that the fate of his fight with the teachers union could determine his own. "If I wanted to be sure I'd be re-elected, I'd cozy up with the teachers union," he says in his ornate state office, decorated with Mets memorabilia and a signed guitar from Bruce Springsteen. "But I want far-reaching, not incremental, change."
The governor already has persuaded many voters on a fundamental point: New Jersey pays way too much for education. Mr. Christie's poll numbers dipped earlier after the teachers union began running TV commercials critical of him. But his numbers have rebounded in recent polls. Frederick Hess, education-policy director at the American Enterprise Institute, a think thank that pushes for market-oriented solutions, says a likely new crop of Republican governors who have promised to slash budgets and reform schools will be watching to see how Mr. Christie fares. "New Jersey is the canary in the coal mine," he says.
Ms. Keshishian, the New Jersey Education Association boss, 60, says "change for the sake of change" isn't necessary because, she argues, the state's public-school system is among the best in the nation. "Every single day the governor gives new meaning to the term bully pulpit by attacking me or NJEA—all to raise his political profile," she said.
She's the one "playing personal political assassination by using the dues money of teachers to attack me," said Mr. Christie.
The governor called the state legislature into an emergency session and pushed through a 2% cap in annual increases of property-taxes, which have risen 70% in the past decade in New Jersey. He halted popular projects, including a multibillion-dollar train tunnel to Manhattan.
"Chris will either be the most stunningly effective governor ever in New Jersey, or he will alienate so many constituencies that he can't build the consensus to tackle these grave problems," said Cory Booker, Newark's mayor. The Republican governor recently gave the Democratic mayor a big role in running the Newark public schools, which the state took over in 1995 after declaring them a failure.
Various factors drive education costs especially high in New Jersey. A state supreme court decision years ago found that children in poor communities got inadequate educations and mandated increased funding for their schools. New Jersey is heavily unionized with relatively high salaries for public workers of all stripes, teachers included.
For years, the teachers union has argued that New Jersey pays more but gets more. The state's high-school graduation rate is 82%, the highest in the nation, and New Jersey ranks among the top five states in key subject areas, according to the Education Law Center in Newark, which pushes for better funding for public schools. Its graduation rate for black males is 69%, the highest for a state with a large African-American population, according to a recent report from the Schott Foundation, which advocates "fully resourced, high-quality" public education.
The state is home to elite suburban school districts, including some with racially diverse student bodies. But students in urban school districts fare far worse, prompting Mr. Christie to hammer away at the "achievement gap" between low- and high-income students. Camden's graduation rate is 41% and Trenton's is 43%, according to the Education Law Center.
"Chris Christie isn't the most convenient messenger for the education-reform movement, because of his take-no-prisoners style," says Andrew Rotherham, a co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, which seeks to accelerate achievement of low-income students. "But he's on to something big—that the huge cost for public schools is no longer sustainable."
New Jersey spends $17,794 a year per pupil, highest in the nation after Washington, D.C. New York isn't far behind at $16,981. California, Florida and Illinois all spend about $11,000; Mississippi, Utah, Tennessee and Idaho spend only about $8,000.
The average New Jersey teacher makes $61,277 a year, well above the U.S. average of $52,800, according to the National Education Association. New Jersey teachers get medical and other benefits costing $19,140 a year, according to the teachers union. The New Jersey Treasurer estimates its unfunded liabilities relating to lifetime health benefits for current and retired teachers is $36.32 billion.
To foot that and other bills, New Jersey residents pay an average of 11.8% of their income in state and local taxes, the highest in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank. The average property tax bill for owner-occupied residences in New Jersey is $6,579, also a U.S. high.
Ms. Keshishian began organizing in college, where she led a sit-in for her women's basketball team, which wanted uniforms and practice time comparable to the men's team. Last year, the former high-school math teacher took the helm of the state's most powerful union.
Mr. Christie was appointed New Jersey's U.S. Attorney in 2002 and successfully prosecuted a number of corruption cases. He quit for what seemed a long-shot bid for governor.
Mr. Christie and Ms. Keshishian first crossed each other in June 2009, when the NJEA invited gubernatorial candidates to audition for its endorsement. Mr. Christie refused to attend. In a letter, he said he wasn't seeking the endorsement because it would "require promises…that will not be kept." The NJEA endorsed then-Gov. Jon Corzine, ran ads against Mr. Christie and worked phone banks on Election Day for the Democrat.
.After the Republican's victory, Ms. Keshishian sent a letter congratulating Mr. Christie and requested a meeting to "work together on our commonly shared goals." He didn't respond.
At his January inauguration, Mr. Christie called New Jersey schools "broken" and said they "have failed despite massive spending." The next month, he called for pension and benefits changes.
In his budget address March 16, Gov. Christie proposed $820 million in education budget cuts after $1 billion in federal stimulus money dried up. He then took direct aim at NJEA.
"The leaders of the union who represent teachers have used their political muscle to set up two classes of citizens in New Jersey: those who enjoy rich public benefits and those who pay for them." He said it was "unfair" for teachers to receive "4% to 5% salary increases every year, even when inflation is zero, paid for by citizens struggling to survive."
The union website disagrees, saying "the average salary increase over the past year has been approximately 2%."
Ms. Keshishian ordered up a series of counter-punches to the governor's charges. The NJEA shifted money from "Pride in Public Education" spots to 30-second ads critical of Mr. Christie. New Jersey's teacher of the year appeared in one. "Stop attacking teachers and education, and start funding our schools," she said.
On March 23, Gov. Christie, under pressure to make up an $11 billion budget shortfall, called on teachers to accept a pay freeze, and urged taxpayers to "vote down" school budgets that didn't include one. More than half did. He proposed teachers help pay for their lifetime health benefits by contributing 1.5% of their salary in premiums, and pushed through a law mandating that for all new teachers.
NJEA led its members and other community and labor groups in a rally, dubbed "Standing Up, Standing Together." About 35,000 members gathered at the state capitol in Trenton.
Gov. Christie spent the day at the Monmouth Park racetrack for a bill-signing. When asked about the gathering, he told reporters: "I'm here. They're there. Have a nice day."
New Jersey Senate president Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat who heads the state ironworkers' unions, said the rally backfired for the teachers union. "It may have made them feel better about themselves, but many of my constituents saw it as a message that the NJEA isn't going to change even if taxpayers have to suffer."
In April, Joe Coppola, president of the Bergen County Education Association, a county union chapter, emailed a memo to members with a closing prayer: "Dear Lord, this year you have taken away my favorite actor Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer Michael Jackson and my favorite salesman Billy Mays." He concluded: "I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor." The private memo became public.
Mr. Coppola didn't return a call for comment for this story.
Ms. Keshishian went to the Governor's office across the street April 13 to apologize in their first face-to-face meeting, she and the governor recall.
He demanded she fire Mr. Coppola. Ms. Keshishian said she couldn't, because he was elected locally, adding, "It's just a joke, albeit in poor taste, but not meant seriously."
Gov. Christie threw her out of the office. "But we have important issues to discuss," she countered.
"Not with you, I don't," he replied.
This summer, New Jersey prepared to apply for "Race to the Top" funds, a series of grants from the U.S. Department of Education made available through a competition between states. The NJEA worked with the governor's education commissioner Bret Schundler. When Mr. Christie found out that the application changed his priorities, he pulled the draft application and his education staff re-wrote several provisions without NJEA's endorsement. Because of an error in the revised form, New Jersey lost its bid for the funds, a $400 million mistake.
In recent legislative testimony, Mr. Schundler, whom the governor had fired, blamed Mr. Christie for forcing a last-minute change. "It was intolerable for him to be perceived as giving in to NJEA," Mr. Schundler said.
The teachers union rushed out close to $1 million in TV commercials to highlight the debacle. "Stop putting politics ahead of the children," the ads pronounced.
Mr. Christie in an interview said that Mr. Schundler is "simply making things up," but added, "I hired him so ultimately I'm responsible."
Mr. Christie moved on, snagging an appearance on Oprah Winfrey's television show to unveil a bipartisan plan to improve public schools in Newark. Along with Newark Mayor Mr. Booker and Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who donated $100 million to the effort, Mr. Christie got a glowing report from the talk-show diva.
His administration recently sounded out outgoing Washington, D.C., schools chief Michelle Rhee, who has shaken up the school system there, about becoming New Jersey education commissioner, according to knowledgeable people. She signalled she had other plans.
On Sept. 28, nine months after taking office, Mr. Christie unveiled his plan to revamp schools. He pushed for linking teachers' raises and job security to "teacher effectiveness and student performance," instead of the current system of rewarding seniority and advanced training. He called for an end to New Jersey's practice of awarding tenure after only three years.
Afterward, Ms. Keshishian, who slipped into a back row to watch, appeared on nine television newscasts, two radio shows and in several newspapers, to pan the governor's plan. She said he continues "defunding public schools and demonizing the people who work in them."
Ms. Keshishian noted Mr. Christie's appearances around the nation for GOP candidates and the buzz about him as a possible presidential candidate. "He wants to be the poster boy for the Republican agenda," she said.
Mr. Christie said he's not running for president in 2012, but didn't rule out a bid in 2016. "I may not get re-elected governor."
Write to Monica Langley at firstname.lastname@example.org
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