NJEA: Fashion Disaster

Big education news today: In a letter to NJEA Prez Barbara Keshishian and NJSBA Exec. Dir. Marie Bilik, Gov. Christie has formally requested that teachers statewide accept a pay freeze and contribute towards health care benefits to mitigate the vast lay-offs and program cuts that every district faces due to state aid slashes. The Governor told the Asbury Park Press yesterday, "I'm going to take them at their word that it's all about the kids. Well, if it's all about the children, then step up to the plate.”

Christie’s punt is more interesting strategically then financially. Surely he knows that NJEA’s leadership would never recommend that local bargaining units reopen existing contractual agreements, especially since there are currently calls to curtail union dominance at the negotiating table by reinstalling “last, best offer,” which was rescinded by the Legislature in 2003 under the McGreevey administration. And NJSBA? Been there, done that. Just last week it issued a press release calling on NJEA “to urge its affiliates to cooperate in the reopening of existing contracts, with the goal of freezing salaries for the coming school year. Local school districts need to take this approach now. Otherwise, the loss of teachers and other staff will diminish the quality of school programs and will hurt New Jersey’s children.”

Public sentiment has never been fiercer against NJEA obstinance. Christie’s challenge serves to widen the gulf between the NJEA leadership and, well, everyone else.

Here’s Pres. Keshishian’s response to the Governor’s:
NJEA members will not be bullied by this governor into paying for his misguided priorities. In his typical fashion, Gov. Christie is talking at school employees, not with them. He shared his letter with the media well before he shared it with NJEA. If Gov. Christie would ever like to have a genuine discussion, conducted face to face among serious people, rather than through press releases and media stunts, we stand ready to meet with him. But we will not stand by while he attempts to coerce school employees into bearing the full burden of his wrong-headed educational priorities.
And there's the problem: this sort of unrepentant martyrdom on the part of union leadership is obsolete. It’s been at least a decade since teachers could claim the nobility of grandly toiling in an underpaid and overworked profession, and the public knows this. Keshishian might as well be wearing bellbottoms and a “make love, not war” tee shirt while everyone else is suited up in skinny jeans and Obama buttons.

Is a makeover likely? We're doubtful. NJEA's bosses are in full-throated adamance, singing out virtuously defiant protest songs over perceived injustices while many New Jerseyans endure soaring health care costs and frozen wages themselves. NJEA is not just sartorially-challenged. It’s painting itself into a shrinking corner and Christie knows it.

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