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Midnight in the Garden State of Good and Evil
posted by: Colin | April 13, 2010, 02:35 PM   

Actually, it is closer to high noon in New Jersey, where newly-elected governor Chris Christie is in a showdown with the teachers union.

In order to balance the budget, Gov. Christie has asked for teachers to accept a one-year pay freeze and contribute 1.5% of their salary towards health care costs (teachers currently receive full family medical, dental, and visual for $0). In tough times everybody needs to make sacrifices, Christie argues. Teachers in New Jersey have demanded pay increases of 4 and 5 per cent each year, according to Christie.

The NJEA, New Jersey’s largest teachers union, claims that his recommendations amount to a pay cut and suggested new taxes to close the budget gap. Christie noted that 1.5% of $50,000 is $750, or about the cost of union dues in New Jersey, and suggested the unions forego their dues this year if they want to protect the teachers’ salaries.

The PR blitz turned ugly when a union leader sent around a memo wishing for the governor’s death. Bergen County Education Association president Joe Coppola’s memo joked, "Dear Lord, this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson. I just wanted to let you know Chris Christie is my favorite governor."

Christie has demanded Coppola be fired, but the NJEA is not about to give in. Coppola has apologized.

But the evil (yes, wishing the death of someone with whom you disagree on public policy is simply evil) doesn’t stop there. Christie’s education commissioner Bret Schundler now finds his name included on a union “attack list” that advises members to “get some dirt” and “go public.”

A New Jersey editorialist summed up the situation:

“Sadly, it may not be union leadership, but rank-and-file teachers who will be most hurt. Whatever side you may be on — Christie’s or the NJEA’s — teachers have become pawns in this game. They deserve a better fate.”

They also deserve a better association… (See AAE Member Benefits)

And now for the good:

Lower Township (Cape May County) School Superintendent Joe Cirrinicione has given himself a serious pay cut. Cirrinicione will be paid the same as a starting teacher, $43,660 with no benefits, down from his previous salary of $160,000 with full benefits. Cirrinicione’s sacrifice helps to close a budget gap and will help save an estimated 32 jobs.

The Lower Township teachers unanimously approved a new contract that includes a 1.5% contribution to health care costs (saving the district $202,000 per year) and a 2% pay increase each year for the next three years. While not exactly what Gov. Christie has requested (he called for no pay increases) it is less than last year’s pay increase of 4.3%. All told the teachers and superintendent cut 10.5% out of their budget—and didn’t raise taxes. Quite a feat, certainly made easier by spreading the pain around.

Should teachers be asked to make sacrifices to help balance budgets?
Has your district had to make significant cuts?
Did the administration share the sacrifice?

Comment below.

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