Christie's "Seismic Shift"

NJEA and Education Law Center, cozy as two peas in a pod, have twin press releases out, both regarding this report out from the Office of Legislative Services. NJEA says that the OLS study proves that freezing teacher pay across the state would never compensate for cuts in school aid, and that property taxes would have gone up anyway. ELC says that the OLS study proves that Gov. Christie’s school aid proposal in the FY11 State Budget violates the School Funding Reform Act.

They’re both right. Page 25 of the report says, “it is estimated that if all school districts took these actions [freezing teacher salaries] they would still have to address a budget shortfall of at least $849.3 million,” proving NJEA's point. (More disingenuous is the statement in the press release that “New Jersey already ranks 45th in the nation in state support for local public school," a blatant misrepresentation of NJ's school funding model.) On to ELC's press release that itemizes the ways in which next year’s school budget shortchanges SFRA:
* setting the Consumer Price Index at zero instead of using the true CPI of 1.6%;
* reducing state aid growth-- the maximum amount by which a district's aid can increase in one year -- to zero rather than 10% for districts spending above adequacy and 20% for districts spending below adequacy;
* reducing aid by an average of 4.99% of a district's total general fund budget for FY10 by cutting funds from specific SFRA formula categories, including: 1) adjustment aid; 2) transportation aid; 3) security categorical aid; 4) special education categorical aid; and 5) equalization aid;
 reducing extraordinary special education aid by 15%.
Here’s the question: does it matter if Gov. Christie fudged the math on the impact of wage freezes? Does it matter if the School Funding Reform Act assumes higher state contributions to local districts? Whether or not Tuesday’s school board elections represent the “seismic shift” that Gov. Christie confers on voters’ judgments, there’s no going back. Fuzzy math and Abbott history aside, who can imagine a scenario where, for instance, our Governor wades into a crowd of union members, raises his fist and cries out “I’ll fight for you!” (Corzine in 2006.) Or the State Legislature amicably passes Statute 18A:31-32, granting “ whole salary” to “any teacher, secretary, or office clerk” who want to buzz down to Atlantic City on a Thursday and Friday in November for the NJEA Teachers Convention? (The only NJEA state associations that allow this practice are Vermont, Minnesota, Utah, and Wisconsin. All other state confine their conventions to weekends or summer, though Maryland closes for one Friday.) Been there, done that. From today’s New York Times:
The message of “enough is enough” resounded across the state, from urban to rural districts, and even in well-to-do suburban communities like Ridgewood, where residents are particularly proud of their schools. It was a drastic change from a year ago, when voters approved nearly three-quarters of the school budgets during the height of the economic downturn.
Pending is a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit annual property tax increases to 2.5% (effectively capping salaries way below standard practice), retirement incentives that could potentially transform NJ’s teaching force (NJEA estimates that 30,000 school employees will retire), and mandated health benefit premium contributions. Welcome to whole new economic vision of public education in NJ.

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