Governor Chris Christie assumed office in January 2010 with a pledge to deliver New Jersey from an oncoming disaster. In addition to promising to balance our budget, he promised to save our schools. Based on his pledges, it was expected that he would work in support of our schools, rather than declare a war on them. However, within the opening days of his Administration, it appeared that New Jersey Schools have been under assault by the Christie Administration, rather than be supported.
The mission that he purported to pursue was initially applauded by those in public education. However, today we have groups of parents, classroom teachers and school administrators reacting negatively to the Governor’s methods for saving our schools. Groups of parents have been rebelling against the Charter School movement, complaining that Charter schools deprive public school districts of badly needed resources. Teachers have felt that they have been under attack since Christie took office. School Administrators have found New Jersey to be an unwelcoming place to provide leadership. In fact, a New Jersey School superintendent, recently cited as the “School Administrator of the Year”, has announced that he will leave New Jersey to become the superintendent of a school district in New York State. According to news sources, New Jersey is losing school superintendents at twice the rate of previous years. We are losing our most experienced education leaders at a time when we are struggling to find solutions to a fiscal and social crisis. Furthermore, many of the decisions that have led to the current turmoil have been made without voter approval.
Over the last two years, we have lost classroom teachers and, in addition, this problem has extended beyond the schools. We have lost large numbers of policemen, with violent crime rates in the inner cities rising to unprecedented levels. Municipal governments are fighting for survival, as annual budgets are challenged by rising health insurances costs that outpace inflation. Public workers have lost their collective bargaining rights, and retired workers have lost cost of living raises, forcing many to leave New Jersey, as well, when faced with an inability to pay their mortgage or medical bills.
Rather than work together to solve these problems, the current administration has created adversarial relationships among public entities that will ultimately lead to failure.
Some legislators have attempted to work constructively to seek solutions, but have been punished for their efforts. State Senator Brabara Buono has examined the current state of affairs and offered policies that will create transparency at a time when we are blind to each other’s motives. For example, over time, she has addressed the issue of rising insurance costs and the lack of transparency in municipal contracts. She has offered teacher reform that supports educators rather than threaten them. As a reward, she has been stripped of key committee assignments where she was making valuable contributions for New Jersey. Others, such as Senator Paul Sarlo and Assemblyman Gary Schaer have recognized the danger of losing collective bargaining and Sarlo has spoken out about the need to examine the impact that the charter school movement will have on public school systems.
Some of the current Administration’s policy decisions will be examined by the State Supreme Court and, hopefully, there will be a solution. But, other issues can only be resolved by us working together, rather than against each other.