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

Monday, August 8, 2011

Norcross, Translated

John Mooney (who remains the best education reporter in the state) interviewed George Norcross, the Fresh Prince of South Jersey. As a public service, I've translated excerpts from corporate reformer-speak into plain English:

Norcross is not shy about his feud with the public unions. Nor are they, for that matter. The unions -- including the NJEA’s PAC – last week refused to endorse the bulk of South Jersey’s Democratic incumbents in November legislative elections, angered by the pension and healthcare changes signed by Christie and endorsed by the Democratic leadership, including Norcross and his longtime ally, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester).
A month earlier, the NJEA slammed Norcross in a statewide ad campaign as being part of a conspiracy with Christie to gut union rights. Norcross was still a little angry about that Friday, but said the NJEA also knows the numbers.
They keep count. They do polling, too, and they know they made mistakes in this and overplayed their hand. They went in believing that they could stop [the pension changes], particularly in the Assembly, and there was never a chance of them stopping anything. They overplayed their hand, and when the music stopped, there were no chairs.
TRANSLATION: "I'm talking about the politics of this because I know that the pen/ben bill does nothing to solve the real problems; in fact, it makes them worse. Oh, and a message for the NJEA: we learned from Illinois. You take money away from my machine, we'll just find some new sugar daddies to fill the vacuum. You've been warned."

I predict a bunch of "no endorsements," as opposed to anti-endorsements, and that will be the smoke signal they want peace. It is time to focus on who they believe the real enemy is, the administration.
TRANSLATION: "Even though I and my entire machine got into bed with Chris Christie, please leave me alone now."

Whenever you try to affect public policy, history has taught us it has to be incremental and has to take time. Some of Christie’s proposals are aggressive, and I think it will be important for the NJEA to say, let's get ahead of what they, the public, is irritated about. If smart, they will put their own proposals together that are reasonable. Pass them and get it over with.
TRANSLATION: "By 'reasonable,' I mean policies - like an over-reliance on property taxes - that continue to allow people like me to pay artificially low tax rates. I also think it's 'reasonable' for the state to continue shuffling the insane explosion in health care inflation on to the public workers, because actually addressing cost overruns would mean way less money for me and my health care industry buddies."

In Camden, you have 1,500 to 2,500 kids who have a mom and/or dad with their hand raised wanting a seat outside the Camden [public schools]. That’s how I got involved, almost by accident. I was at a Cooper community event, three blocks from here, and a mother came up to me, no idea who she was. She said, "Mr. Norcross, I know you are, you are a powerful man, and I need your help. I thought she'd ask about a job. She said I have two children, I can’t get them out of Camden public schools, I can’t get in charter school, and I can’t afford a parochial school. I need you to do something to get them in charter school." I thought I could do that, but then found out the real deal, and it’s a lottery-driven system, and because of the avoidance of the Democrats over the years in approving alternative education, charters and others, there were no seats available.
TRANSLATION: "I didn't bother to explain to this woman that the data shows overwhelmingly that her children will not do any better at a charter or private school; in fact, there's a good chance they will do worse, the school will be closed, and we will have shuffled them around for nothing. Oh, and I should have asked if her children were poor or had learning disabilities, because it's far less likely they get into that charter school, no matter how many phone calls I make."

I liked [OSA] more when it was the original pilot program, when it was only three or four districts, and much smaller. And then some folks got carried away on a grandiose plan, taking it to 200 [schools] and a $1 billion plan. I've been advocate for quite a while to paring it back to a pilot with a sunset clause. Let’s see if it works, maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.
TRANSLATION: "We'd better pull back, Derrell, because the research on vouchers is not looking good."

I am a big believer in pilot programs, they have beginnings and they have ends, and they have to have measures. One of the things in OSA that I was always a big proponent of was that before they enter, the students have to be tested. And they have to be tested every year. So you can see at the end if it worked.
TRANSLATION: "Let's test some kids (only kids without special needs, of course), give them vouchers, move them into private schools, take away money from public schools to pay for it, and then test them again. If they fail a secret test, back they go; say goodbye to your new school and your new friends, kid. Makes sense to me."

I’m behind anything that opens seats instantaneously for kids. The Assembly passed a charter conversion for private schools. That will pass [in the Senate] at the end of this month in committee, maybe full Senate, and I am trying to get the Catholic church [on board] in a desperate way. They have four schools in the city that cost $1.5 million to subsidize and 80 percent of the students are not even Catholic. Those schools are going to close, or they will convert them to charter schools that they can operate themselves through a separate nonprofit, and take the $13,000 per student from the state and give world-class education. I don’t get what’s wrong with that picture.
TRANSLATION: "Those four schools really don't have much more room to take more kids, and it will take years to build new ones, but yes, lets take tax money away from already underfunded schools in violation of the First Amendment and give them to parochial schools that ALREADY exist. The only thing they'll have to do is convert to charters and stop teaching Catholic doctrine, which is ostensibly their purpose in the first place. But my 80% remark pretty much implies that's not very important to them anyway, right? I don't get what's wrong with that picture."

We are trying, meaning Cooper and my family foundations, to sponsor new or existing charters. That means a combination of branding so it develops some level of credibility in broad-based way in the community. And Cooper is the most favorable brand you have in all South Jersey.
TRANSLATION: "I've learned a lot about building my "brand" from my buddy Donald Trump."

These charters need a big brother or sister, they need a big corporation, a philanthropist. They need high-end corporate or institutional engagement. A Campbell Charter School would never fail, a Cooper Charter School would never fail. You need to add an element of authority that is going to engage the corporate or institutional body.
TRANSLATION: "If Steve Adubato has a charter school, so should I. And throw in a TV station for my son while you're at it. And name it after a business, because we all know American businesses have such a track record of success..."

I think a material change could happen from 24 to 30 months from now. I see starting in the next number of months, principally with affiliations we have, and then the process of a new projects would follow.
TRANSLATION: "We'd better get this done before one-term wonder Christie gets booted out of office."

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