Jersey City Union Prez Gets it Wrong on Race To The Top

Ron Greco, President of the Jersey City, is featured in a story in today’s NJ Spotlight on the latest district-specific round of the federal education grant initiative Race To The Top. This time there’s $400 million available. Three-hundred seventy districts applied from around the country, 21 from New Jersey.

Jersey City Public Schools intended to be one of the hopefuls with a bid for $40 million, but the union there refused to sign off, a new requirement for RTTT applicants.  Mr. Greco then issued an open letter to his members, which closes with the salute “In solidarity” and a little picture of Diane Ravitch.

Mr. Greco’s objections are many: not enough time to vet the application; Bret Schundler’s rocky connection with RTTT (Schundler is a former JC mayor and charter school advocate, not to mention ex-NJ Ed. Comm.); intentions to implement  a form of merit pay and a  longer school year; hiring new administrator. Then there’s this:
The budget in the grant has the $40 million down to the penny. Not one cent is dedicated to negotiation of a new contract. Not one single cent. The grant would be our new contract. It has spelled out the extended day, extended week and extended year. These are negotiable items.
Of course, plenty of cents are “dedicated to negotiation of a new contract.” It’s just that this the grant money would be distributed based on classroom effectiveness. And the RTTT application cannot overrule union contracts, nor preclude union-district agreements for salary increases.

For example, when RTTT was state-based, New Jersey submitted a successful application that incorporated the provisions laid out in the Opportunity Scholarship Act and a rewrite of charter school laws. It also included the elimination of seniority-based lay-offs. But these items were not automatically enacted. That would take an act of legislation, which never happened. Applications are not legally binding. They’re visionary, not contractual.

So Jersey City lost a chance for up to $40 million in extra funds based on the union president’s flawed understanding of RTTT applications. That’s too bad for JC’s kids ((and, for a little context regarding their needs, check out this presentation from JC Superintendent Marcia Lyles).  It’s too bad for the union constituents as well, who might have benefited from opportunities to increase compensation from sources other than negotiated salary increases.

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