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

Friday, December 14, 2012

His Majesty Eli Broad, King of New Jersey

There are a few foolish people left in this state who think we live in a democracy. Maybe this will convince them otherwise:
What passes for educational reform in New Jersey has relied heavily on private foundation money — millions from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, among others — and a common complaint of critics is that the public is rarely made aware of the conditions of those grants. One recent grant from a California-based foundation includes this unusual stipulation: Gov. Chris Christie must stay in office in New Jersey.
"That’s astonishing," says David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark and a frequent critic of the Christie administration’s policies. "It is highly unusual, maybe precedent-setting — to require that an elected official remain in office as a condition for a grant."
Sciarra, whose organization forced the disclosure of the terms of the grant from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, has called for an independent review of the $430,000 award. It was Sciarra who gave The Star-Ledger a copy of the grant papers.
"Some independent body, the Legislature or the state comptroller’s office, should look into the entire relationship between the Broad foundation and the state," Sciarra says, adding that the requirement of Christie’s continued presence — negotiated while the governor was considered a presidential or vice presidential contender last spring — was not the only problem with the grant. [emphasis mine]
We'll get to that in a second. But let's first acknowledge the arrogance with which demands like this are made:
A spokeswoman for the foundation had a different take. In an e-mail, Erica Lepping, its senior communications director, wrote:
"Research shows that American school systems making the greatest academic gains have certain ingredients in place, including strong leaders who champion strategies that are designed to create environments that support students and teachers, so we consider the presence of strong leaders to be important when we hand over our dollars. [emphasis mine]
Oh, I see! Chris Christie is a champion of teachers! That's why he has to remain in office to get old Uncle Eli's big bucks! Hey, champ, show us again how you "create that environment that supports teachers":
April, 2010, CNBC:

“I love the public schools but the fact of the matter is there is excess and greed there,” said Christie, during an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box. [That's in the "public schools," not the union offices - JJ]
July, 2010, MSNBC:

The state teachers union said--they had a rally in Trenton against me. 35,000 people came from the teachers. You know what that rally was? The "me first" rally. "Pay me my raise first. Pay me my free health benefits first. Pay me my pension first. And everybody else in New Jersey, get to the back of the line." Well, you know what? I'm not going to sit by and allow that to go unnoticed, so we'll shine a bright light on it, and we'll see how the people react. But I think we are seeing how the people of New Jersey are reacting, and that's how you make it politically palatable in other states in the country. Just shine a bright light on greed and self-interest.
April, 2010, The Star-Ledger:

 "Scaring students in the classroom, scaring parents with the notes home in the bookbags, and the mandatory 'Project Democracy Homework' asking your parents about what they're going to do in the school board election, and reporting back to your teachers union representatives, using the students like drug mules to carry information back to the classroom, is reprehensible."
November, 2010, The Trentonian:

“These teachers have all summer off. Can’t they have their convention during the summer?’’ the governor said as he spoke to a clutch of high schoolers surrounding him.

“They got to get two days off from school because, you know, they don’t get enough time off now, right? They get two weeks off at Christmas, they get all the different holidays, then they get all the summer off and now they need two more days.

“Why do you think that is? Do you think If they cared about learning where would they be today?’’

Ashley Batts, 16, a Trenton Central High School sophomore answered “in school.’’

“That’s right, in school, baby, they would not be down there in Atlantic City having a party — because that’s what it is.’’ [Does everyone understand that the Governor of New Jersey told a group of students that their teachers do not care about learning? Does everyone think that's acceptable? - JJ]
May, 2010, Politico:

The teacher responded by saying that she has a master’s degree and that her current salary isn’t compensating her for the value of her higher education as well as her experience. 
To that, the governor responded: “Well, you know then that you don’t have to do it.”
 March, 2010, Blue Jersey, quoting Christie directly:

"Teachers who crowded the statehouse on Monday to try to intimidate public officials like Assemblyman Schroeder and Assemblywoman Vandervalk into not voting for pension and benefit reform.
"And when one teacher was asked, "What are you doing here today? It's a Monday in the school year." She said, 'Oh, we got a substitute. I left a plan; it's not like they're watching videos or something.' 
"They. 'Not like they're watching videos or something.' I thought that was a really interesting part of the quote. That contraction: 'they're.' They didn't say 'the kids' then, did they? No, they only use the words 'the kids' when they want to evoke an emotional response from you which will get you to open your wallet and pay them. 
"When they're talking about protesting and fighting in Trenton, then it's 'they're.' 'They're watching videos or something.' I thought that was an interesting part of the quote. Language matters, ladies and gentlemen. Language is a window into attitude. And this isn't about the kids. So let's dispense with that portion of the argument. 
"And I have heard these stories over the last week, over and over again from all over New Jersey about teachers standing in front of classrooms, and lying about and excoriating the governor and the lieutenant governor." [This one is my personal favorite. He is criticizing a teacher forusing a pronoun to describe her students. So, every time you hear Chris Christie use a pronoun to describe kids - or seniors, or taxpayers, or police, or the military, or whomever - understand that, by his definition, that's an insult. - JJ]
I don't know about the rest of you, but I feel as "supported" as Dolly Parton wearing a training bra...

So what else is shady about all this?
Other curious provisions include "benchmarks" that appear to commit the state to pursue certain policies, some of which are controversial. For example, at a time when the Legislature is reviewing the state’s approach to charter schools, one benchmark reads:
"The percent of high quality public charter schools in New Jersey, as measured by NJDOE’s" — New Jersey Department of Education’s — "definition of high quality, will increase by 50 (percent) by 2014-15."
Sciarra says he takes this to mean the state agreed to increase the number of charter schools by 50 percent. Morgan and Lepping say it means only that the number of existing charter schools considered to be of "high quality" will increase by half.
"It says what it says," says Sciarra. "It is a foundation driving public educational policy that should be set by the Legislature."

That is exactly right. Think what you will about Chris Christie and charter schools and the appropriateness of "destructive innovation." The problem with any or all of this is not only the policy: it's that it is being implemented by fiat. Our education policy is being written by the highest bidder.

The Broadies took over the NJDOE last year and are implementing policies that centralize control of local school systems. They have outright called for removing the ability of the Camden school board to vote on policy and personnel, moving that power to the state. Following a series of secret meetings, they installed a superintendent in Jersey City who has ties to Broad through his Superintendent's "Academy" (which is nothing more than a book club). They forced another Broadie to "consult" in  Paterson for a ridiculous fee. They spread Eli's money around Newark to cronies. They subverted statute by creating a plan to supersede the County Superintendent's offices and replace them with Regional Achievement Centers, staffed by more cronies, and answerable only to the Broad infested NJDOE.

At every turn, they have accrued power to themselves at the expensive of the Legislature, the County Superintendents, the local school boards, and the voters - and they've done it all with Eli Broad's money.

Again: you can think whatever you want about the reformy schemes these people come up with. But it is unethical and anti-democractic for one man - who doesn't even live in New Jersey - to buy this much influence over education policy.

At the center of it all is, of course, Chris Cerf: a failed school privatizer, a man with damaged ethical antennae, and a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy.

I'll have more to say this weekend, but for now: the Legislature needs to begin an immediate investigation into all of this. It's out of control, it's a subversion of transparency and accountability, and it has to stop.

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