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, November 13, 2013

We Don't Need a NJ Version of Race To The Top

For the life of me, I can't think of one good reason why New Jersey needs this:
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) has filed a bill to be heard on Thursday that would create an Innovation Fund and appropriate $5 million in its first year to help schools trying new programs in scheduling, technology and other areas. [emphasis mine]
The proposal is a mirror image of the fund that Gov. Chris Christie included in his fiscal 2014 state budget, but which was cut out of the final spending plan by the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
Ruiz signed off on that cut as a member of the state Senate budget committee. She explained yesterday that she felt it was not ready for approval at that time.
“But I was very clear that it was something we need to revisit,” Ruiz said in an interview. “It was a great concept, but people had questions.”
Now, she said, such a fund – with guidelines -- could help school districts fund certain programs that would not otherwise get funded. She has especially advocated extended school-day programs.
“For me, it’s a great way for districts to think outside the box,” Ruiz said.
Senator, I don't know if you've been paying attention, but spending money so districts can "think outside the box" isn't really a priority when the state can't even give its teachers modest raises [all emphases mine]:
The rhetoric between those negotiating a contract for teachers and those negotiating for the school board is getting hotter as the city prepares to go into a new municipal election in May. The teachers are currently in their fourth year without a contract, and both sides are waiting for the outcome of a state fact finder, although all agree the findings won’t be binding.

Teachers marched around City Hall on Oct. 18 to send a message to Mayor Mark Smith that they are unhappy with the Board of Education and the lack of movement on the contract.

Alan D’Angelo, president of the Bayonne Teachers’ Association, is negotiating on behalf of 750 teachers and 50 secretaries in the Bayonne school district,

D’Angelo said the district offered a zero-percent increase the first year, and a freeze the second year for teachers at the top of the salary guide. At the same time, he said, the school district awarded a two-percent increase to some of the top-earning administrators
, which has teachers crying foul.
And in Egg Harbor:
At the scheduled 8 p.m. start time for the Egg Harbor Township Board of Education meeting at the Alder Avenue Middle School on Tuesday, Nov. 12, board members emerged from their earlier closed session to see a board room filled with a crowd that far exceeded the room’s capacity. The majority in the crowd were there to protest the lack of progress on contract negotiations since the most recent contract expired in June.
A state-appointed mediator will try to resolve a four-month contract dispute between the Leonia Board of Education and the district’s 230 teachers, secretaries and classroom assistants. 
Both sides spent more than four hours in mediation Tuesday night, after the Leonia Education Association held a rally at the high school as a show of strength and to boost the spirits of its members. 
“Teachers throughout the district feel demoralized,” union President John Sassi said. “We’re not sure if the board knows we’re united.” 
The association and school board will meet again with the mediator on Dec. 5. 
The district’s “notoriously low” pay scale is a key issue in the dispute, Sassi said. He said the average pay for Leonia teachers is about $10,000 less than the average teacher’s salary in Bergen County, which is in the mid-$60,000 range.
Woodland Park:
Pat Posthumus, president of the WPEA, told board members of her disappointment that the education association was entering its second year without a contract. Posthumus is also a pre-school disabilities teacher at Charles Olbon School. 
"Negotiations are stalled due to the unwillingness of this board to accept a fair and equitable solution outlined in a non-partisan fact finders report," she said. "This contract could have been settled with the amount of money you have spent in fighting this. Over the summer, we have lost many fine talented educators and an administrator. They have sought employment in other districts. They have moved on not only to districts where the contracts are more equitable, but to where they feel they are being treated with dignity and respect. How can you say that you put children first, when you put your teachers, aides, secretaries and custodians last?" 
Richard Loccke, field representative for the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), said the board has intentionally misled the public. He referred to the board's letter to the editor, calling it "a false, malicious opinion letter." 
"With regard to face to face negotiations, this board team refused to drop proposals and after two years still has eight pages of proposals. This board is obstinate and wants benefits reduced, people to work longer, staff to earn less and all for outrageously low proposal of 2 percent. The WPEA has moved the process along consistent with state law while getting highly experienced state appointed neutrals to assist us."

And, of course, Paterson:
Teachers in Paterson are fed up after more than three years without a contract and unhealthy conditions in their schools.
Union president Pete Tirri says he asked teachers to take pictures of their classrooms on the first day of school and the results were alarming.
"The schools are crumbling because there is not enough money for the district to make the repairs that are needed," Tirri says.
Teachers and staff found open electrical boxes, peeling paint, leaking roofs, and even mouse droppings.
What's that, trolls? You don't believe it things are really that bad in Paterson?

Food preparation room, Elementary School No. 20, Paterson.

Mouse droppings in an in-use classroom, Elementary School No. 20, Paterson.

The state has overseen the Paterson School District since 1991, and Tirri says the district and state blame each other for the deteriorating conditions.
Tirri says 3,200 teachers, aides and other union members have been working without a contract or salary bump since 2010.
"We don't have any long-term job security because things are up in the air," says teacher Chris Small. "It would help you sleep better at night knowing things are secure and locked in."
So let's get this straight:

- There are many New Jersey schools in deplorable condition.

- There are many teachers in New Jersey working without a new contract and no raises, even as they pay more for pensions and health care.

And yet Senator Teresa Ruiz wants to create a $5 million slush fund for education "innovation"!? Why? So Commissioner Chris Cerf can throw more money at his friends and cronies?

I have a crazy idea: why don't we use the money instead to fix schools and settle contracts so teachers can have modest raises?

I know - crazy talk...


alm said...

$5 million dollars is one-half of one percent of the operating budget of the Newark Public Schools.

The SDA's last authorization was ~ $4 billion. Ruiz's innovation fund represents 0.1% of the SDA's budget.

Ruiz's money would let the SDA do 0.1% more than it currently does. The reason that you put some money aside for innovation -- a very small amount of money, frankly, relative to the $9 billion in the budget for state aid to schools -- is that it might be 'higher leverage' - it has the chance of funding a project with really outsize student achievement results - maybe an innovative program for helping students with special needs, for instance, or providing online PD that teachers across the state could use.

Calling it a 'slush fund' is way out of line, and borderline uncivil.

Anonymous said...

Let's try this for innovation: get politicians out of the education "reform" business. This would save tons of money on unneeded tests. More innovation: end the useless, time-wasting SGO process. This would save time, and the money it would save in paper alone would make it worthwhile. Let educators have a say in evaluation, and eliminate the many excessive administrative positions in NJ school districts. Further innovation: require charter schools to pay their own way, not using public funds, and require them to play by the same rules that public schools have to follow. Now with all this innovation, spend the money saved on all of this to feed students, clothe them, give them adequate health and dental care and a safe place for them and their families to live. Help their families find jobs. And to alm, calling it a "slush find" is kind considering the situation in the schools pictured above: that's the real incivility.

Teacher Mom said...

Hmmm interesting. For $5 million they could build more than one new school from the foundation up (they did it in my district). So sorry for assuming that $5 million is more than a drop in a bucket. Also, I believe that $5 million is the budget for the FIRST year with a total suggested expenditure of $45 million. WOW how many schools could we repair and rebuild with $45 million. We also have to take into consideration who would be the recipients for this "Slush Fund". This situation seems to be a blatant opportunity for cronyism. Will this be another opportunity for competition between schools and districts? As a parent whose district has been underfunded by the state for nearly a decade, according to the State School Funding Formula, I call FOUL! I want equitable funding for my kids. Not some cockamamie "innovation" scheme. After all, research on motivation and innovation proves that the best way to inspire professionals to innovate, is by giving them autonomy and the freedom to do it. Money is actually a very poor motivator for passionate professionals. A concept completely lost on people obsessed with the all-mighty dollar.

alm said...

Central High School in Newark was budgeted as $40 million facility and cost $100 million plus. There is no way you could build 'more than one new school from the foundation up' with a $5 million budget, full stop. That would maybe cover land acquisition costs.

Mrs. King's music students said...

Not for nothing, but the $$$$$$ of SIG money awarded to Cramer School in Camden funded Extended Snacks, and Extended Basketball for three years - and it was NOT a concession to teachers, many who volunteered NOT to participate in this waste of money. This was a concession to bldg level admins and their friends/relatives on the BOE, union or no.

As you've mentioned before, this group gets peanuts compared to what charter vendors are ranking in - but either way, thinking outside the box might include following the money. For realsies this time.

Marie said...

Why do we need 'innovation funds' when schools are rationing things like copy paper & toner? Or when we don't have enough textbooks or supplies? Or when class sizes have ballooned because.teachers have been laid off? What good is innovation when we don't have the proper supplies to do our everyday jobs? Don't believe me? Cme to my school district. Hunterdon County... One of the wealthiest in the nation. Unbelievable.