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

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Don't Lay Down Arms in the War Against Teachers!

Yesterday, Matt Katz of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweeted the following:
ATTENTION NJ TEACHERS:  says teachers gotta be furious that  spends millions in dues on political ads. Do you care? DM me..
As a matter of fact, Matt, I care very much. And if any of you who are teachers feel the way I do, I'd suggest you tweet Matt, like he asked, and let him know, in your own words, what you think. 


Our governor had one of his patented hissy fits yesterday about the teachers union:

New Jersey (STONJ1)’s largest teachers union spent a record $11.3 million on lobbying last year, mostly on television and radio advertising criticizing GovernorChris Christie.
The $10.9 million in communications spending by the New Jersey Education Association, up from $6.6 million in 2010, was the most by any lobbyist in New Jersey last year, according to the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission. Total lobbying jumped 11 percent to a high of $73 million, a fourth-straight annual increase.
The 195,000-member NJEA led the pack. Its leaders have confronted Christie, a first-term Republican, over his spending cuts and proposals to change tenure rules, add charter schools and offer privately funded vouchers to students in low-income families.
“Lobbyists are depending more and more on mass-media communications in their effort to influence public policy,” Jeffrey Brindle, executive director of the election commission, said in a statement today.
Christie, who took office in January 2010, cut school aid and urged voters that April to reject budgets in districts where teachers refused to accept wage freezes. He later accused educators of using children like “drug mules” to carry union messages.

‘Slush Fund’

In an ABC News interview last year, Christie called New Jersey teachers “wonderful public servants” and their union’s leaders “political thugs.” Last month, he called for the firing of NJEA Executive Director Vincent Giordano over comments he made about schoolchildren from poor households.
Christie told reporters today in Trenton that the NJEA’s record spending “comes as no shock,” and that the union collects more than $100 million in dues each year that goes into a “political slush fund.” Giordano and union President Barbara Keshishian are “abject failures” as leaders, Christie said.
“I feel badly for teachers who pay their dues every year in order to have that kind of garbage put on the air,” said Christie, 49. “There’s a desperate need for change in leadership over there. They should be replaced, but apparently only a palace coup will do that.”
Before I start, let's give big, big props to reporter Terrence Dopp for putting this all in context. Because the NJEA's spending of that money makes a lot more sense when you know that Christie has been actively calling for cuts (not freezes, but cuts: when you include the increasing amounts teachers pay for health insurance and pensions, it's really a cut) in teacher compensation.

Christie has thrown bombs at teachers - not just the union, but teachers - since day one. My personal favorite is when he told a group of Trenton students their teachers didn't care about them; I guess that's how he feels "wonderful public servants" should be thanked.

As bad as his words have been, they pale in comparison to his actions. He cut $1.2 billion from education in his first year in office (making districts use up their surpluses, then cutting even more). He insisted that his cuts could be made up if teachers took a pay freeze; the Office of Legislative Services reported later the freeze would not have paid for even one-quarter of the Christie cuts.

Christie then worked with Senate President Steve Sweeney to craft a law that jacked up mandatory pension payments for teachers even as it removed cost-of-living increases, hugely devaluing our pensions. The state, which has already skipped billions of dollars in payments, doesn't even have to make a full payment for another seven years; in other words, teachers are forced to pay into a system that is worth less and less to them while the state, under Christie, continues to enjoy a free (or, at the very least, cheap) ride. I guess his successor will have to figure out how to keep making full payments; he'll be long gone by then.

But there's more: the bill also jacked up the costs of health insurance for teachers, which means thousands of dollars less in our already modest paychecks. You would think he would attempt to bring the skyrocketing costs of premiums down, but he hasn't done squat to contain them. So teachers pay more, and Christie does nothing to help manage the costs.

All of this is in addition to the historically low raises teachers are getting in their contracts, heading down below 2%. Some have ludicrously tried to paint this as exorbitant, but teachers have always been underpaid for their comparative education and experience; in New Jersey, teacher pay has risen more slowly than the average worker's (and that's not the average college-educated worker; it's the average of all workers). These recent tiny raises are undoubtedly due, in part, to Christie's insulting argument that teachers who complain about his broken promises and falling farther behind the rest of the workforce don't really care about kids.

Now Christie is working a full-court press to strip teachers of essential protections like tenure and institute merit pay (which does not work) on the basis of an evaluation system that was developed without any meaningful teacher input. Millions of dollars to sell this effort have been pledged by hedge fund billionaires, in spite of the massive amount of evidence against these "reforms."

And the governor has many other resources available to help him push his propaganda. There have been plenty of secret backers ready to pony up money to get his message out to the public. He uses taxpayer money to stage phony town-halls. Cable TV is happy to provide him with gobs of airtime to push his plans, with nary a critic in sight. Newspaper editorials ignore or mock any serious criticisms of his reform plans while pushing for the slashing of teacher pay.

So, to recap: Chris Christie is slashing teacher compensation, called for cuts in our pay, destroyed our pensions, made us pay more for health insurance while doing nothing to hold down the cost, is pushing "reforms" that have no evidence to back them up, personally insults teachers as well as their unions, has wealthy backers who have pledged millions to sell his plans, and commands a bully pulpit where he is almost never challenged.

And yet - in spite of all this - he has the temerity to make this decree:
“I feel badly for teachers who pay their dues every year in order to have that kind of garbage put on the air,” said Christie, 49. “There’s a desperate need for change in leadership over there. They should be replaced, but apparently only a palace coup will do that.”
Let me say this: if I'm frustrated with my union, it's not because they're fighting back; it's because they need to fight back even harder!

I want more ads on the airwaves. I want more appearances by NJEA officials in print and on TV. I want them to start calling out the governor's sycophants by name. I want to see them call out shows like Morning Joe when they give Christie a free, unchallenged platform to spew his nonsense. I want them to mobilize an army of teacher-spokespeople to get the word out that what Christie, Cerf, and the rest of their merry band are doing is going to kill the great New Jersey school system.

I haven't always agreed with the NJEA, but I think this gets it exactly right:

Steve Wollmer, a union spokesman, said members know how the union spends dues money and called Christie’s statements a “fusillade of untruths.” Teachers are forced to use costly advertising as Christie wields the power of his office to remain in the media spotlight for free, he said.
The union made an “extraordinary expenditure” in 2011, three-quarters of which was used to fund a March-June media campaign in the run-up to passage of Christie’s $29.7 billion budget, Wollmer said. Since taking office, the governor has eroded teacher morale as he cut school funding and forced educators to pay more for pensions, he said.
“Our members wanted us to speak out and we did,” Wollmer said in an interview. “We have to pay to get our message out by and large. This advertising was basically designed to level the playing field.” [emphasis mine]
This is what a union is supposed to do. So do it, do it well, and don't run away from it just because Chris Christie is whining for you to stop.

Bullies never like it when you push back.

9 comments:

darciecima said...

Bravo Duke, bravo!

Walt S. said...

"What Christie, Cerf, and the rest of their merry band are doing is going to kill the great New Jersey school system."
That is exactly what they want to do so as to "privatize" public education in NJ and everywhere. Then their buds and corporate cronies can hire teachers at their schools with abysmal wages and drain the profits for themselves.
I don't like playing the part of a conspiracy theorist but I am certainly not alone in this view!
walt sautter
http://teachersdontsuck.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Jersey Jazzman you're blog is right on the money. WE need to think of ways to get all teachers in NJ unite together. We need your help.
caren

Anonymous said...

We should target the advertisers of Education Nation. If I remember correctly, four or five ago, MSNBC sent me A VIP survey on Education Nation and wanted to know what I thought about the sponsors and what I thought would improve education.

susan said...

I wonder if there is a way for teachers to start voluntarily working with the NJEA to help counter balance the propaganda. Seems the NJEA is busy putting out fires all over the place - maybe it's time for more of us to step up and offer man power. We are an intelligent, educated bunch - together, our voices should be able to match those of the "reformers." Christie & his followers count on the masses remaining silent.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure I'm not the only teacher disappointed with the NJEA's mostly ineffective response to Christie's War. If the leadership had half of Jazzman's brains and tenacity, we would have a chance of saving the public schools.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see a commercial of the Governor in his own words, or text, speaking about reform. start with the OPEN LETTER, CUT TO A CLIP OF HIM STATING HIS AFFECTION FOR TEACHERS, CUT AGAIN TO THE Renton video where the Gov basically tells students that if their teachers cared about them... And on and on..

Go Jazzman Go,

Deb said...

And how much has Christie's 'super-pac' spent on their 'life is perfect in jersey with Chris CHristie?' campaign....

If ever there was an argument for unions, our Governor embodies it....

Teacher Mom said...

"Let me say this: if I'm frustrated with my union, it's not because they're fighting back; it's because they need to fight back even harder!

I want more ads on the airwaves. I want more appearances by NJEA officials in print and on TV. I want them to start calling out the governor's sycophants by name. I want to see them call out shows like Morning Joe when they give Christie a free, unchallenged platform to spew his nonsense. I want them to mobilize an army of teacher-spokespeople to get the word out that what Christie, Cerf, and the rest of their merry band are doing is going to kill the great New Jersey school system."
Jazzman, nail, head. couldn't day it better!!!