Conflicting Roles for NJEA's Giordano

Vince Giordano, NJEA’s Executive Director, makes no bones about his organization’s key positions: maintain 4%-5% annual salary increases for teachers, stymie attempts to mandate contributions to pensions and health benefits, and derail education reform efforts like charter school expansion, merit pay, and participation in Race To The Top initiatives. Here’s some snippets from yesterday’s Record profile:
In his spacious office across from the State House, decorated with posters of classic cars, Vince Giordano exudes calm confidence. A union member for 46 years and executive director since 2007, Giordano said he's seen "skirmishes" come and go, and the union always emerges strong.
The NJEA's sheer numbers and political grit remain formidable.

"We're as strong as we've ever been," said Giordano. "We're not out of the ring."
No tactics are off the table in 2010, he promised: There could be mass rallies and job actions. The union could pull back on contributions to lawmakers who vote against its interests. The ads may be just the beginning.

"We put out that $300,000 and we'll put out tenfold if we have to, to maintain that fair voice in the public arena," he promised.

Giordano expressed disgust that the bills to trim the pensions of new employees passed the Senate with little discussion. "We're not happy that we were disrespected," he said.
Giordano, who makes $270K plus pension and benefits as Chief Bully of one of the most militant unions in the country, has another role: he moonlights as a Trustee of the Education Law Center, the primary advocate for poor urban students. Conflict of interest? Let’s see.

1) Giordano and the rest of the NJEA leadership want more money for teachers. ELC (here’s today’s press release) wants more money for poor urban students.

2) Giordano wants to thwart attempts at education reform. ELC, by anyone’s logic, would support these reforms which aim to narrow the achievement gap between poor and wealthy students.

Here’s two organizations with directly competing agendas. How can Giordano represent both? More importantly, does ELC compromise its morally-grounded agenda – equity for poor school children – by allying itself with the primary lobbyist for maintaining a failing status quo in NJ education?

Oddly, in almost every case NJEA and ELC are on the same side of the table. NJEA’s raison d'etre is increasing teacher compensation. (That’s fair: legendary union leader Albert Shanker famously said, “When school children start paying union dues, that 's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”) And today’s ELC press release suspiciously lowballs teacher salary increases: “salary, benefits, and other education costs typically rise 3-4% each year.” (Tell that to local school boards that are hard-pressed to negotiate anything lower than 4.5% plus huge increases in the costs of benefits.) Regarding reform, the NJEA executive office ordered presidents of local affiliates to refuse to sign district Race To The Top applications. ELC submitted formal criticism to the Feds regarding RTTT priorities, in spite of the fact that the linchpin of those priorities addresses shortcomings in educational equity.

Giordano is candid in his Record interview: “when the politicians get out of education, we’ll get out of politics.” ELC, however, disavows political considerations, claiming in today’s press release that Corzine’s School Funding Reform Act “protects [low-income districts] from an arbitrary, politically-driven aid cut” and “back-room deals driven by political, not educational considerations.” While Giordano is blatantly political, practically pluming his feathers in his digs across the street from the State House in Trenton, ELC’s lobbying is more muted, staking out the high road as it rallies for equity for impoverished school children.

Does ELC’s close association with Giordano undermines its ability to remain politically neutral in its noble quest to secure adequate education for disadvantaged children? Would ELC be freer to sign on to reform initiatives specifically designed for its clients if one of its Trustees wasn’t dedicated to thwarting them? True, politics makes strange bedfellows. But this alliance borders on the bizarre.

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