2010-03-25 / Front Page
Christie puts state’s support behind charter schools
Gov. on NJEA: ‘This is all about greed and self-interest’
During the New Jersey Charter Schools Association (NJCSA) Conference held at the Ocean Place Resort and Spa in Long Branch on March 18, Christie said that despite the state’s financial woes, New Jerseyans can expect to see more charter schools opening over the next four years, because he considers them part of the solution to the problems confronting urban education.
Christie told the audience that he largely left funding for charter schools untouched when he introduced the state budget that cut $820 million in public education aid on March 16.
In an effort to keep down the cost of education, Christie suggested that the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) should take steps to help mitigate the financial crisis facing the state by making some concessions.
“Go to the NJEA and get them to reopen their contracts,” Christie said. “Tell them not to take their 4- to 5-percent increases and full health benefits and start paying for a market-based share of their pensions.”
According to Christie, the NJEA, unlike other unions, does not help to fund benefits, pensions or support their teachers’ salaries. He said that quality education doesn’t have to be heavily subsidized by the state, an example set by charter schools.
“You are the masters of doing more with less because you have been consistently underfunded by the statute that was passed to establish you,” Christie said of charter schools. “This is all about greed and self-interest.”
Christie criticized the NJEA for denying the state its opportunity to receive a share of the $400 million from President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top Fund. He said the NJEA wouldn’t sign on because teachers would then be judged on merit.
“This is a fight worth having and I’m doing what I know is right,” Christie said. “New Jerseyans are hard workers who speak loudly and care deeply. It’s about time you’ve had some leadership to match.” His remarks were greeted with rounds of applause.
Carlos Lejnieks, chairman of the NJCSA board, said charter school students want to be held to high standards, graduate from high school and move on to higher education.
“Charter schools are not a panacea; we need to build relationships and build support,” Lejnieks said. “We need to focus on growth and quality, while looking forward to newfound partnerships with the governor and the state Department of Education. Demand is high, the need is urgent and the time is now for us all to rise.”
Earlier in the day, Schundler said “cross fertilization” between school districts and charter schools needs to take place. He said relationships should be nurtured to the point where charter schools and district public schools look to each other for best practices that enhance student achievement.
To encourage cooperation, he said, charter school test scores should count toward the total test scores of a student’s home district. He also said school districts should be able to authorize charter schools within the district’s boundaries.
Schundler said many of the state’s superintendents are in favor of the opportunity to authorize a charter school, a measure that he said would end the “we versus they relationship between charter and district schools.”
Schundler said he did not know the opinion of the Red Bank Public Schools superintendent, whose district is now responsible for contributing 98.5 percent of its state aid to its charter school.
“They are all our children, and that’s what it should be about,” Schundler said. “It would be great if a district and a charter school authorized by the district chose to run schools in the same building. It is easier for others to take notice of innovation if it is all happening in the same building.
“This would aid in the exchange of ideas and could benefit both financially,” Schundler said. “The charter school would get great space, and instead of its rent going to an outside landlord, it would go to a school district which had extra space and could benefit from the income.”
Schundler lauded Christie’s proposed 2.5 percent cap on the growth of state spending and a plan to require all public employees to pay 1.5 percent of their health benefits cost as a way to control costs and avoid layoffs.
Another incentive to save money and avoid layoffs is in place for teachers eligible for retirement. Those who retire before Aug. 1 would be exempt from contributing to their health care. The measure would also rid the system of teachers at the top of the pay scale.
“If we implement these reforms expeditiously, we can avoid layoffs throughout New Jersey’s public schools,’’ Schundler said.
Christie acknowledged that his no-holds barred, say-anything approach to government might cost him a second term.
“I will tell you today what I said throughout the campaign and what I mean from the bottom of my heart: I don’t care a bit about being re-elected. Not one bit. The proof of that should be Tuesday’s speech,” Christie said, in a reference to his March 16 budget address.
“If I cared about getting re-elected, I wouldn’t be doing what I did on Tuesday. I don’t care about being re-elected.”