I don’t know what you’re doing this afternoon from 4-6 but if your calendar is empty and you want to endear yourself to NJEA leaders, put on some black clothes, drive to Woodbridge, and join NJEA’s “Death of the Amendment Rally.” No joke. NJEA is actually organizing a rally against its current whipping-boy, Senate President Steve Sweeney, because he declined to bring to the floor a proposal for a public vote that would have gone down in flames. This referendum, originally positioned for the November election, would require the state to make “full payments” to the public workers’ pension fund, currently $49 billion in the hole.
No governor since Christine Todd Whitman has made full pension payments. That’s because there isn’t enough money. But never let it be said that NJEA executives allow reality to get in the way of political inanity.
The head honchos at NJEA know — they must, right? — that, one, the referendum would fail and, two, that if by some bizarre alignment of the planets it passed that the state couldn’t make the payments without declaring bankruptcy. Yet this is the nexus of their war against Sweeney, who happens to be vice president of the International Iron Workers Union — i.e., a fellow union member — and has an atypical understanding of the needs of traditionally-disenfranchised students because he has a daughter with Down Syndrome.
NJEA leaders are counting on public ignorance, an odd bet for representatives of educators, and have mounted an expensive campaign against him, hoping that its members will instead vote for Republican Fran Grenier.
Grenier’s platform seems to consist solely of his aversion to progressive school funding, exemplified by N.J.’s Abbott rulings that steer more state aid to low-income districts. Here’s Grenier:
“I do not agree with the Abbott district funding formulas,” said Grenier, a supervisor at PSEG Nuclear’s Salem plant and a former Woodstown borough councilman.
Citing a disparity in funding between Salem City, an Abbott district, and nearby towns, he asked, “Why does one community get a break over another?”
And, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Grenier is a fan of the dead GOP health care bill, opposed by anyone with a progressive bone in his or her body.
But never mind. NJEA has vindictively declared war on Sweeney, a crusade paid for by its SuperPAC Garden State Forward (info here). Since January the PAC has spent about $600,000 of teacher dues flinging digital mud at the Senator.
NJEA also has declined to endorse Senator Teresa Ruiz, chair of the Senate Education Committee. Ruiz shepherded the 2012 teacher tenure and evaluation reform bill through the Legislature. The bill language was heavily influenced by NJEA leaders. Example: a late draft of the bill eliminated LIFO, or last in, first out during lay-offs, regardless of instructional effectiveness. But after NJEA lobbyists declared that reform a step too far, Ruiz put LIFO back. Nonetheless, she’s dirt on NJEA’s shoe.
NJEA’s front office has a short memory. After all, it was Senators Sweeney and Ruiz who cut a deal with the Christie Administration to lower the impact of student outcomes on teacher evaluation, reducing the link from 30 percent to 10 percent.
I don’t know how many people will show up in Woodbridge this afternoon. It certainly won’t be the teachers I’ve spoken to, who express chagrin at the use of their hard-earned money for this vengeful and politically-obtuse charade.