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

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why Should NJ Teachers Unions Play Along?

Chris Christie has spent the last four years blaming the teachers unions for everything from state budget woes to the "opportunity gap" to halitosis. Why, then, would anyone be surprised when these same unions finally decide they've had enough?
The Newark Teachers Union on Thursday declined to sign off on a $30 million federal grant application, an indication of how fractured labor relations have become in New Jersey's largest school district a year after Gov. Chris Christie and union leaders celebrated a new labor contract.

District officials had been optimistic the union would approve an application for a grant from the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" program that was similar to one the union endorsed last year. Newark Public Schools, which are under state control, proposed using the funding to pay for laptops, teacher-improvement resources and support for students who are struggling emotionally.

But teachers union President Joe Del Grosso said the application was full of "stupid things that are just wasteful spending," such as a proposal to use earbuds to give teachers live feedback during classes. [emphasis mine]
You don't have to take Del Grosso's word for it: the NTU released the application, which includes a proposed budget. Of the $30 million in total spending proposed, over $18 million goes to contractors, with millions more going to new administrative positions in the Newark Public Schools bureaucracy.

This is the way things work in the reformy world of New Jersey education these days. You'll recall that when Mark Zuckerberg dumped $100 million in Newark's schools a few years ago, the cronies of Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and Mayor Cory Booker were the first ones to dunk their snouts in the trough. At the same time, the teachers of Newark were promised that $20 million of Zuck's bucks would be made available to them in merit pay raises over three years. In the first year, however, only $1.3 million went to the teachers who got bonuses -- and much of that money was actually taken from other Newark teachers!

Another example: when Eli Broad poured a cool half-a-million into Newark, Cerf's buddies were waiting with their hands out -- but there was nothing for the educators who were actually in the schools teaching kids.

It seems that any time money comes into New Jersey for its schools, a hefty amount winds up going to consultants, administrators, and others outside of the classroom.

Of course, Tom Moran -- Op-Ed page editor of the Star-Ledger -- could reliably be counted on to parrot the anti-union line pushed by Cerf, his friendly neighbor:
Believe it or not, Newark in all likelihood just lost a chance at $30 million for its schools over what amounts to a temper tantrum. Joseph Del Grosso, head of the local teachers union, hotheadedly refused to add his signature to the district’s application for coveted federal education grants last week, which by rule disqualifies Newark.
The backdrop here is that Del Grosso is involved in a serious fight with Superintendent Cami Anderson over the implementation of the teachers’ new contract. So fine, battle it out with Anderson. But don’t sabotage Newark’s chance at millions of dollars in funding for its schools.
The application isn’t valid without approval from the local teachers union. This is money for new laptops, modernized classrooms and teacher training. Yet Del Grosso seems bewildered by all the fuss. [emphasis mine]
Funny how Moran focuses in on the laptop money, but not the larger sums spent on consultancy fees and new administrative positions. I guess we don't talk about these things much anymore since Bob Braun, a real-life journalist, left the dying paper. Braun was the one who broke the story of Booker's and Cerf's cronies getting the Broad money back in 2011; however, since he's left, all we hear out of the S-L Op-Ed page is lots of shiny, happy talk about how wonderful Newark's administration is, and how Del Grosso must be a "hothead."

Which might ring more true if the Newark Teachers Union wasn't the only local in the state to say "no" to signing on for a grant application that would do nothing for teachers or students and plenty for the circling edu-vultures:
PATERSON — In a move likely to harm the city's bid for $20 million to bolster struggling high schools, the teachers union refused to sign an application for grants under a federal education program. 
The application, due Thursday to the Department of Education in Washington, needed the union's buy-in. Peter Tirri, president of the Paterson Education Association, said his team did not sign the Race to the Top application because the district gave the union only three days to review and comment on a 200-page draft application. 
"They have to have the decency to let us know more than three days in advance," Tirri said. "If you want people to work with you, you have to work with them. It's as simple as that." [emphasis mine]
Yes, another state-run district's teachers union rejected an application that would have poured plenty of money into consultants' hands and left the teachers and students outside rattling their tin cups. Keep in mind that Paterson's teachers haven't had a contract for four years:
The Board of Education on Wednesday night quickly drafted a resolution calling for a settlement of the contract, but opted not to vote on the measure until after their legal counsel could review the wording. 
Paterson teachers have entered their fourth year without a contract. On Wednesday night, a couple hundred of them attended the school board meeting, the latest in an ongoing series of protests that began last year. The teachers complained that the district was willing to pay consultants as much as $7,000 per day and give a performance bonus to superintendent Donnie Evans, while not giving them raises since 2009. [emphasis mine]
And who was the consultant making the big bucks in Paterson? Why, none other than Education Commissioner Cerf's good buddy and fellow Broad Superintendent's Academy Book Club graduate Mike Miles, who has since moved on to an ill-fated career in Dallas.

Why would Paterson's teachers agree to a proposal to further enrich outsiders when they've worked without a raise for four years?

Why would Newark's teachers agree to a proposal to further enrich outsiders when they haven't received even a small portion of the money they were promised for signing on to merit pay?

Why would any teacher or teachers union trust a governor to meet his promises to them when he holds them in such contempt?

This is what happens when you beat up on teachers and their unions over and over again: after a while, they stop coming back for more.

That money isn't for you, teachers and students!

Yeah, because I've got plenty of old friends who need a new gig!

Me too!


Josephine Paige said...

I would like to add that last spring the President of JCEA, Jersey City Teachers Union, Ron Greco also refuse to sign off on the JC "Race To The Top" Application. Signing this document would have signed away many of the protections the unions has fought for decades to provide their members. This is the grant from hell! Our Broad Academy Superintendent Marcia Lyles and her 5 rubber stamper board members would have been ok with it, but good thing Greco reads before signing! You go Greco!!

Michael Fiorillo said...

Ironically, at least in regard to people who think of teachers unions as profligate wasters of the public purse, by rejecting these funds the union is saving taxpayers many millions, since the RttT money is just bait to get districts onto the endless high stakes testing hamster wheel.

Once the grants run out, its those chump taxpayers who get stuck with the hefty bills.

Mrs. King's music students said...

I slept well for the first time in months after reading this. If Christie had a set of principles like Del Grosso's, we could turn these schools around. And yes, I do know how that sounds.

Jerry Gene said...

I like your style of writing. You break it down nicely. Very informative post. Keep up the good work.

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