A Modest Proposal

NJEA President Barbara Keshishian has a news release out today slamming Gov. Christie’s seizure of $475 million in local district surplus accounts. Add to that a possible 15% cut in state aid, she intones, and it’s a “doomsday scenario for families” which will have “a devastating impact next fall, with many [districts] forced to lay off teachers and staff, cut academic programs or raise taxes.”

Fair enough. Local school districts are frantically calculating draconian cuts to accommodate projected shortfalls. But here’s the missing link in her jeremiad: those cuts are driven less by loss of surplus and state aid than by payroll and benefits increases radically out of sync with economic realities and private sector compensation. However, the solution’s pretty simple: NJEA should direct its local affiliates to proffer a one-year freeze on salaries, and encourage small contributions to health benefits.

Here’s an example. District A has a budget of $50 million. Typically 75% of those costs are payroll and benefits, or $37.5 million. If NJEA would exercise meaningful leadership and promote flat salaries for one year, those lay-offs, academic cuts, and tax raises would be almost entirely mitigated.

If math isn’t convincing enough, here’s another reason: NJEA is quickly losing a public relations war as newspapers lambaste union officials (like Keshishian who makes $263K per year, plus deferred compensation and a state pension) for being greedy and out of touch with the very families they propose to protect. From Monday’s Star-Ledger editorial:
Statewide, teachers got raises that averaged 4.4 percent this year, even as many in private industry dealt with salary freezes, bigger contributions to health insurance and an unemployment rate that has stubbornly stuck around 10 percent.

This year, in the middle of a punishing recession — when more than 10 percent of New Jerseyans are out of work, when others are having their pay and hours cut, when many are losing homes to foreclosure — teachers’ average base salaries rose by nearly 5 percent, double the rate of inflation.

We can’t afford this. Taxes are too high as it is, and we face a mountain of unpaid pension bills. If we were a private company, we’d be General Motors.
From Sunday’s The Record:
"People are without jobs, people are not getting raises, people are having to pay more for their benefits, but the unions for the teachers, it seems like they wouldn't consider giving anything back," he said. "I just think that's a selfish attitude right now. The unions need to think a little more about the towns they're in.
Imagine the good will engendered by a one-year sacrifice on the part of our state educators; picture the plaudits thundering down from relieved taxpayers and school districts who embrace their teachers as compassionate and committed to NJ’s public school system. No lay-offs. No cuts to academic programs. Minimal tax increases. Perhaps, next year, rational contributions to health care premiums and a salary raise calibrated to economic realities. New Jersey and NJEA: perfect together.

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