“I Am a Proud Public School Teacher But I Am Ashamed of My Union Leadership at NJEA”

I am a proud public school teacher, but I am ashamed of my union leadership at the NJEA. I implore fellow public school educators and NJEA members to disregard the dishonest junk mail and see what’s really going on here. We pay a considerable amount in dues from our relatively modest salaries to fund a handful of NJEA ‘leader’ salaries in the neighborhood of $500,000 a year. Think about that. They get paid close to/more than half a million dollars a year just to waste millions of dollars – many of which also come from our dues – to defeat a public school advocate and replace him with a Chris Christie stooge who kept cheerleading for Donald Trump even as he appointed Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. For the NJEA to support that agenda with our hard-earned money is an outrage that every self-respecting educator should condemn.  

On Election Day this November, this educator will be supporting Sen. Steve Sweeney.

That’s veteran teacher Donna Ragonese of South Jersey responding to news that NJEA leaders have mounted a lavish campaign to unseat Senate President Steve Sweeney and replace him with Councilman Fran Grenier, an ardent Trump fan.  [For more information on central office compensation packages, see here.] NJEA rationalizes these expenditures by pointing back to August 2016 when Sweeney killed an amendment that would have mandated that the State make $20 billion in pension payments over five years.  For those of you playing catch-up or fighting amnesia, just prior to debate on the amendment, the Legislature agreed to not raise taxes in exchange for a gas tax hike to pay for transportation upgrades. So there was no cash available to rescue a teacher pension system currently $50 billion in the hole and everyone knows the amendment would get a thumbs-down from voters. (Hey, New Jerseyans, wanna pay more taxes?)  Sweeney did the numerical and political math and made a hard and correct decision.

So what’s the response of NJEA’s venerable leaders? They have  mounted an expensive campaign (current cost: over $650,000 in teacher dues)  to vote in Fran Grenier.  In doing so, NJEA’s central office is hoping to replace a highly-regarded statesman well-versed in and committed to educational equity (it’s personal: Sweeney has a daughter with Down Syndrome) with an inexperienced Trump-loyalist whose education plan includes Christie’s death-wish of flat-funding all students, regardless of district tax base or socio-economics, at $6,599 each per year.

From the Observer:

Grenier would seem to be an odd choice for the reliably liberal NJEA. He supports Trump, opposes the Abbott v. Burke line of cases from the New Jersey Supreme Court that have ensured a steady stream of funding for schools in the state budget for decades, and backed a now-aborted plan by Christie to flatten state education aid at $6,599 per student. [Former NJEA President Wendell] Steinhauer called that plan “despicable” and said it would result in “a huge step backward to the days when poor families in economically challenged communities were left to fend for themselves.”

Crazy town, right? Positively reptilian

Ms. Ragonese isn’t alone in her repugnance towards NJEA’s readiness to waste teacher dues money on a candidate who represents almost everything reviled by teachers. Last week 16 Democratic senators who have managed to retain their spines signed a letter addressed to current NJEA President Marie Blistan urging her “to end [her] misguided assault against” Sweeney. Here’s few excerpts from the letter, which you can read in full here.

We are writing to you as Democratic legislators and long-time supporters of public education. It’s inconceivable to us that the NJEA is supporting Republican extremist Fran Grenier, an avowed ally of Chris Christie and Donald Trump, both of whom have demonized teachers and unions throughout their political careers. Carrying out this vendetta against Senate President Steve Sweeney can only have damaging consequences for our party, our next governor Phil Murphy, the state and the NJEA.

Fran Grenier has assailed teachers and other public employees as overpaid and selfish. He has scapegoated them for high taxes and excessive state spending. And he has demeaned them by falsely claiming that being paid with public money made them “tax users – not tax payers.” Grenier supported Christie’s school funding plan, which would have flattened education aid, forced massive teacher layoffs and cut school aid for the most impoverished children in our state…

What’s more, Grenier didn’t object when his running mate in this year’s campaign called teachers and other public workers “union parasites.” He even voted against compensating police, firefighters and other first responders suffering from potentially life-threatening illnesses while on the job. And Grenier avidly supports Kim Guadagno for governor, even though she spent eight years promoting Christie’s agenda and is running against your own endorsed candidate, Phil Murphy.

(Phil Murphy, by the way, has endorsed Senator Sweeney.)

The sixteen signatories of the letter represent two-thirds of Senate Democrats, all beneficiaries of NJEA; signing this missive took strong backbones. So snaps to Senators Teresa Ruiz, Patrick Diegnan, LInda Greenstein, Loretta Weinberg, Nellie Pou, Jeff Van Drew, Fred Madden, Nilsa Cruz-Perez, James Beach, Bob Smith, Joseph Vitale, Nicholas Scutari, Sandra Cunningham, Brian Stack, Robert Gordon, and Paul Sarlo.

And here’s the list of invertebrate Senate Democrats who withheld their signatures: Dick Codey, Nia Gill, Ray Lesniak, Ronald L. Rice, Nick Sacco, and Shirley Turner. (Looking for the missing two out of 24 Democratic Senators? Steve Sweeney, of course, and the late Jim Whelan, who died last month.)

Meanwhile, teachers like Donna Ragonese can only look on with disgust as the leaders of their labor union respond to Sweeney’s astute decision with spitefulness and vengeance.  In their quest to elect a man who will damage the well-being of New Jersey’s teachers and students, they serve as bad role models for all of us.

What do you think?


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