TRENTON – In a letter distributed Tuesday, Governor Chris Christie called on local school districts and education associations to come to the table to work together in finding cost savings and new efficiencies, spending reductions, and budget solutions that protect education in the classroom and prevent property tax increases.
“While the budget challenges for school districts across the state are significant, they are not insurmountable. Achieving the needed savings and finding budgetary stability will require all parties to step up, pitch in, and work toward the common goal of protecting our educational priorities,” said Christie. “I’m confident this middle road can be found if school districts and local education associations come to the table, find common ground, and act quickly to find the difficult, but needed savings in these budgets.”
Christie called on school boards and local education associations to act on the following cost-savings initiatives prior to April 3, the final date by which all school boards must have their budgets adopted:
• Implementing a salary freeze for fiscal year 2011 in all collective bargaining agreements;
• Requiring that school district employees make contributions to their health benefits that equal those required of state employees under the New Jersey State Health Benefits Program.
New Jersey Education Association President Barbara Keshishian was not pleased with the governor’s proposal.
“In New Jersey, school employees’ contracts are negotiated locally, and each local association may decide whether or not to reopen its settled contract. However, NJEA members will not be bullied by this governor into paying for his misguided priorities,” she said.
“[Christie] has rejected out of hand the possibility of extending a surtax on the state’s wealthiest residents; those individuals making more than $400,000 per year. Under the surtax, they were asked to pay an additional tax on any income over $400,000,” Keshishian said.
“Instead, Gov. Christie proposes that all school employees in New Jersey contribute 1.5 percent of their far more modest incomes to fill the education funding gap that his priorities have created. The total impact on income is much greater, since they are also asked to forgo a portion of their contractually negotiated salary. This is a wrong-headed attack on the incomes of middle and working-class New Jersey residents,” she said.
The New Jersey School Boards Association supported the governor’s call to re-open contracts negotiated with teachers.
“NJSBA appreciates the governor’s position on the reopening of local school district contracts,” said NJSBA Executive Director Marie S. Bilik. “We hope that his strong statement yesterday will make local unions receptive to the reopening of contracts. The quality of children’s education is at stake, and all paths have to be taken to enable local school boards to retain school programs to the greatest extent possible.”
Christie also called on school boards to reduce administrative spending and budgeted expenditures that are not essential to education.