Today is Voting Day for education in New Jersey. All day, I’ve seen a steady stream of Facebook statuses from teachers:
… is urging everyone to vote YES on the school budget!!!!!!!!
… a reminder to bloomfield residents…vote! vote yes for Foley field!
… Don’t forget to support our schools and vote yes to pass the budget!
… Vote YES for your NJ school budgets this Tuesday!
If you’re not a New Jersey resident, then you probably haven’t heard that our new governor, Chris Christie, has been slashing the state budget, including making major cuts to education in order to reduce the state’s $10.7 billion deficit. NJ’s 590 school districts are losing a total of $820 million in state aid– equaling up to 5% of their overall budgets — for the next school year, and this has caused an uproar among parents, teachers, the union and the governor. Mainly, it’s become a boxing match between Gov. Christie and the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.
As part of their previously-negotiated contract, teachers in the NJEA are set to get 4% raises. Gov. Christie has called for a one-year wage freeze and wants teachers to start paying for a portion of their medical insurance — 1.5% of their salary. In theory, teachers could “save” some of their jobs by agreeing to the wage freeze.
The lack of state aid will have to be made up from teacher/administration cuts and/or property tax increases. New Jersey residents already pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation.
Some school districts have given precautionary pink slips to teachers as a warning that they may not be able to hire them back in September if the budget in their town doesn’t pass. And I personally know a number of teachers who have been put on notice that they may not have a job come fall.
I don’t want them to lose their jobs. But I think some concessions are going to have to be made, even if it means the union is temporarily weakened. A new contract can be negotiated, and when times are more flush, more money will come their way. Just as it is for those of us employed in the private sector.
Two Sides of the Story
I can see both sides of the situation — contracts and raise negtiations are the reason teachers are in a union, which is looking out for their best interests. But the private sector has been decimated by the weak economy in the past few years. No raises, an increase in payroll deductions for medical insurance expenses, reduction in hours, layoffs — that’s all part of the reality in my industry and in many others. I don’t think a one-year wage freeze to save their jobs, kindergarten programs and some extracurriculars is too much to ask for, especially since their contracts can be renegotiated next year.
Some residents call out the teachers for only working 9 months of the year. According to the Associated Press, in 2006, the average NJ teacher salary was $58,000 — fourth in the nation. Many teachers work during the summer to supplement their incomes, but teachers making $58,000/yr (exclusive of summers) would be hard-pressed to argue their case with other working folk who make that kind of salary year-round. Mr. Saver and I can live on that salary (actually, less) per person — and we own a home and have one new car. We pay toward our health insurance and put money into our 401(k)s. We won’t be able to retire in 25 years with a pension. Of course, we could have gone into careers where we would be eligible for these things, but all industries are different.
So while the teachers say they are standing up to Gov. Christie to make sure he doesn’t weaken the unions, others see the situation as being all about money. Gov. Christie claims the current state of the economy calls for drastic measures. I agree.
But if the budgets don’t pass, the towns will have to decide how to rebudget the money. That may mean some teachers lose their jobs, kids lose some of their sports and AP programs, and residents face yet higher property tax increases.
No matter what, this is a no-win situation for everyone.