I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Inevitable Death of Newspapers

It continues over at the Start-Ledger. All education all the time in the pages of the S-L today, starting with the front page:
On one side are critics like Jerry Cantrell, president of the New Jersey Taxpayers Association, who calls it ridiculous that districts cannot, “one year out of a decade, maintain the line on an increase in their budgets.”
On the other are educators like Roselle Park superintendent Patrick Spagnoletti, who says the governor’s slashing has “the ability to decimate a district.”
We then get three examples of district dealing with the cuts. The unsaid premise, however, is that this HAD to happen. Did it? Well, you'd think a mention of the tax cut for those making over $400K would enter into that question, but no mention of it made it into the article.

What we did get was some reporting that repeats a bunch of facts without stepping back to see if there are any contradictions to either Christie's or the NJEA's policies. For example:

As a result of a $4.1 million cut in state aid to North Brunswick, ...But at 4:30 a.m. Friday, the North Brunswick board and teachers union struck a tentative three-year agreement that includes a one-year wage freeze, saving the district an expected $1.7 million. 
Anybody see the problem here? The teachers agreed to the freeze, but it didn't even cover half of the cut in state aid. So how can the Guv say, "no teacher layoffs would be needed if educators across the state accepted a one-year wage freeze." Isn't this something that should be pointed out in this article? Shouldn't his office at least have to answer how they would propose East Brunswick make up the rest of the loss? Apparently not.

Also on the front page is Tom Moran. Not a bad article as far as the political process goes, but how can a  writer begin to address the politics of this without mentioning the education state aid cuts? Christie has made it a point to wage jihad against teachers; isn't that a big part of this?

The op-ed page is given over to education cuts. The Guv himself weighs in:
It is the reason why I am proposing to provide additional state aid to school districts that negotiate a salary freeze to the amount equivalent to both the Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes that would have otherwise been paid on the foregone salary increase. The Social Security payroll tax is 6.2 percent of earnings up to $106,800 and the Medicare tax is 1.45 percent of earnings with no cap. This means that we are able to offer school districts additional state aid amounting to 7.65 percent of the savings achieved from a one-year salary freeze, or $76,500 on every $1 million saved. Statewide, if savings of $500 million were to be achieved through the one-year salary freeze, the additional school aid payments would total $38,250,000.
Aside from pointing out this is a pittance, has anyone - ANYONE - asked him how he plans to make up the loss of income tax revenue that comes from a wage freeze? Hello, anyone?

Has anyone asked him how it's a "freeze" if you don't get a raise AND you have to pay 1.5% more toward your healthcare? It's not a freeze - it's a cut!

Anyone bothered to ask him why teachers getting ready to retire should take a PERMANENT cut on their pensions?

This in particular killed me:
There is still time to reopen negotiations and have the teachers union finally agree to reasonable, shared sacrifice — a one year freeze on salaries and a small contribution to health insurance costs.
The election is on Tuesday. You didn't announce the cuts in state aid until less than two weeks before the budgets were due. There was no time for the district to reasonably negotiate with teachers, mostly due to your staff's inexperience and incompetence. Now you're calling for unions and districts to renegotiate before their budgets are even passed.

Seriously, dude, you're making this up as you go along, right?

Now I'm just scratching the surface here. But I'm sure the S-L has fact-checked this article. No? OK, how about a response from someone who addresses these issues?

Fat chance:
But there is an eerie parallel between the governor’s recommendation to vote no and the teacher who punishes the whole class because one student misbehaved. The governor goes further and wants to punish the class because he is mad at the teacher. Unfortunately, this irrational response to one of the many serious problems he will face as governor causes us to question his judgment on other issues as well.
Look, Jim O'Neill is one of the best school supers out there. The Chathams is consistently one of the best districts in the state. I don't want to bust on him for not being a fact-checker, because it's not his job. He has to make the case for his district in the way that best suits him. I find the above to be weak-kneed, but I'm not a super.

No, my real beef is with the S-L, because they give their space over to a man with the biggest microphone in the entire state and they don't think to look carefully at his arguments and see if the hold up.

But what to expect from a newspaper that publishes this:
As for public education, any money that’s restored must have strings attached so that it goes only to districts where teachers make concessions on salary and benefits.
Most teacher union locals have refused to make concessions that would help schools weather this crisis, and some boards have not even asked. To give these districts extra aid would reward their bad behavior.
The governor has nibbled at the edges of this approach by offering districts small rewards in return for salary concessions. In Montclair, for example, employees made concessions worth nearly $1 million. The district will get about $70,000 as a reward.
What if that reward were $1 million instead, or even $2 million? That would give teachers more incentive to offer concessions, since more jobs could be saved. And it would rally school boards and voters to press teachers over the issue.
With this approach, schools could reduce planned layoffs and property tax increases. If the unions make concessions, the money could be delivered in time for the next school year.
Um, if you offered a district $2 million dollars when their teachers took a $1 million dollar cut (it's not a freeze!), where would you get the money? Christie himself on the opposite page says he wants $500 million in savings. So you'd need a billion. But you only want half of the millionaires tax back, which would get you half a billion. Which you were going to also spend on seniors and health care.

But let's say that the money magically appears; you'll have twice the amount of the wage freeze to spend. So you'll hire more people, who you may not even need. And then, since the "freeze" (it's a cut, not a freeze!) is only a year long (hey, Christie said it, not me), those extra folks will get raises too. Or something...

Incoherent. Illogical. Silly. Your modern "liberal" media.

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