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2-25-14 In the News - Gov.'s State Budget FY'15 Message Today, Newark Waiver Request re Laying Off Teaching Staff
Star Ledger - Christie includes $2.25 billion pension payment in new budget, rules out tax hikes

The Record - Excerpts indicate Christie’s budget address will put focus back on the cost of public employee pensions

NJ Spotlight - Waivers: Newark's Unusual Route to Performance...'With potentially hundreds of positions on the line, Anderson's request faces challenge from unions and prominent state senator'

Star Ledger - Christie includes $2.25 billion pension payment in new budget, rules out tax hikes

By Salvador Rizzo/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger  on February 25, 2014 at 7:28 AM, updated February 25, 2014 at 7:30 AM

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TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie's new budget plan includes a $2.25 billion payment to the state's pension fund for public workers, according to excerpts from the speech he will give later today.

The cash infusion is the "largest ever" to the insolvent pension fund, up from $1.7 billion in the current fiscal year.

“How groundbreaking is a $2.25 billion payment in one budget?" Christie's prepared remarks read. "That payment is nearly the equivalent of the total payments made in the ten years before we arrived by five different governors. We’ve kept faith with our pensioners."

The excerpts don't give many further details about Christie's budget, but they show the Republican governor has a somber view of the state's financial situation. He has no plans to raise taxes and is calling for more changes to the state's retirement and health-care systems for public workers.

Christie and lawmakers agreed to make bigger payments to the pension fund every year as part of a pension overhaul signed into law early in his first term. Payments are scheduled to keep rising above the $2.25 billion Christie proposed today until 2018.

In his speech, Christie warns about the impact the $2.25 billion payment will have on the rest of the budget.

"Due to our pension, health benefit and debt obligations, only 6 percent of new spending can be focused on the areas where we really want to dedicate our resources – education, tax relief, public safety, higher education, drug rehabilitation, health care and critical services for the most in need," the speech text reads.

Three years ago, the governor and his allies in the Legislature shifted more retirement and medical costs to public workers, and raised their retirement age to 65. That was not enough to fix decades of mismanagement and neglect by previous governors, Christie said, a sign that he may be asking public workers for more concessions.

“Though the historic 2011 reforms we enacted together immediately reduced New Jersey’s state and local unfunded pension liabilities by 32 percent, it just doesn’t go far enough," the speech text reads. “Without additional reforms, New Jersey taxpayers still owe $52 billion to fully fund the pension system."

The Record - Excerpts indicate Christie’s budget address will put focus back on the cost of public employee pensions

Tuesday, February 25, 2014    Last updated: Tuesday February 25, 2014, 6:49 AM

BY  JOHN REITMEYER

 

Governor Christie’s latest state budget will include a more than $2 billion payment into the public employee pension system, but also put those pension benefits back in the cross hairs, according to excerpts of his budget address released by the governor’s office in advance of this afternoon’s speech.

“The budget proposes making the largest pension payment ever at $2.25 billion,” Christie plans to say in the 2 p.m. address before a joint session of the state Legislature in Trenton.

“How groundbreaking is a $2.25 billion payment in one budget? That payment is nearly the equivalent of the total payments made in the ten years before we arrived by five different governors,” the Republican governor will say, according to the excerpts. ”We’ve kept faith with our pensioners.”

The state’s pension payment has long been an issue for governors from both parties, and many have skipped it altogether, something Christie also did when he took office amid recession in 2010. But after the state’s credit rating was reduced, Christie resumed making payments, though not as much as actuaries say is needed to bring the fund back to solvency.

In 2011, Christie and Democratic legislative leaders also passed a bill that cut pension and health benefits for public employees, saying it would save taxpayers billions of dollars.

But last month, during his State-of-the-State address, Christie told lawmakers that the increasing cost of the underfunded pension system was making it harder to invest in education, transportation infrastructure and anti-crime initiatives.

Christie’s budget address will signal the need to go beyond the changes that were made in 2011.

“Together, we are cleaning up the mess of the past. But this simply isn’t enough,” he will say this afternoon, according to the excerpts.

And he will repeat his position that raising taxes is not a way to fund the state’s priorities.

“Not only is this an unfair solution, it isn’t a solution at all. We just can’t raise taxes enough to pay for the exploding costs of public employee pensions and benefits,” Christie will say, according to the excerpts.

“Without additional reforms, New Jersey taxpayers still owe $52 billion to fully fund the pension system,” he will say.

The excerpts, however, did not indicate what, if any, additional changes to public employee pension benefits will be called for in today’s budget address.

 

NJ Spotlgiht - Waivers: Newark's Unusual Route to Performance-Based Layoffs

John Mooney | February 25, 2014

With potentially hundreds of positions on the line, Anderson's request faces challenge from unions and prominent state senator

 

It’s a process invoked by school districts across New Jersey only a few times each year, a request for a waiver from state regulations that gets into the minutia of school operations.

A district might want to hire a registered nurse instead of a certified school nurse as required by the rules, for example. Last year, a district wanted to put a school psychologist in as a guidance counselor.

Related Links

Waiver Request Overview

Waiver Request Presentation

Yet Newark’s School Superintendent Cami Anderson has upped the ante in the little-used waiver process by requesting that the Christie administration let her lay off potentially hundreds of teachers over the next three years based on performance first, and seniority second.

The waiver request, filed on Friday, maintains that there is leeway in the state statute that requires dismissals be based on seniority alone, a policy known as “last in, first out,” and that the state’s education commissioner has the discretion to allow what Anderson termed a “performance-based” system to be used when making dismissals.

The outcome is far from certain. Outgoing state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf may consider the request or possibly pass it on to his successor before his departure at the end of this week. Waiver requests typically take a couple of months to decide, officials said.

The formal request from Anderson, reported in NJ Spotlight on Monday, instantly drew heated rebuke from the district’s teachers union, the head of the school advisory board, and others in the city. Already the scene of intense protests against Anderson, a school advisory board meeting tonight is sure to bring still more protest.

“We’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen,” Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, said last night. “If it does, our first step is to seek an injunction.”

Maybe the most pointed response came from the architect of the state’s new tenure law, which sought to give districts the means for removing ineffective teachers, but in a more gradual process.

“This undermines all the work we did,” state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), a Newark resident and chair of the state Senate’s education committee, said yesterday of Anderson’s request.

“There are severe questions to the legality of this, let alone whether it will even happen,” Ruiz said.

She said that two years of negotiation on the new tenure law had provided an opportunity to address the state’s seniority statute, but ultimately any changes were left out of the final legislation. The state’s dominant teachers unions had fought hard against any move to address seniority, a touchstone of debate for years, if not decades.

“In the end, we didn’t include [changes in the seniority law], but we provided the best tools to make sure we have the best professionals remain in the classroom,” Ruiz said.

“Nobody wants children without the best people before them in the classroom,” she said. “But the question here is about process, inclusion, and communication.”

Anderson and her chief talent officer, Vanessa Rodriguez, yesterday released a letter and presentation sent to a various city stakeholders -- including clergy, parents groups, and others -- that laid out the rationale for the request.

They said the district faced a $100 million shortfall over the next three years, largely due to falling enrollments caused by the rise of charter schools, and staff reductions need to be considered.

“Based on the financial realities, we have to look at our options,” Rodriguez said yesterday.

Anderson and Rodriguez said that nearly 1,000 of the district’s 3,200 teachers could face the possibility of layoffs in the next three years to match falling enrollments. And they wanted to ensure that it would be those who were least effective in the classroom and not those who were exemplary.

The system they have proposed is that layoffs would first come out of the pools of teachers from the lowest tiers of performance evaluations last year.

Within each those categories, the layoffs would then be based on seniority, but by the time it reached into teachers with “effective” ratings, only about a third of them would be affected. None of the teachers rated “highly effective” last year would be affected, they said.

Without a system based on performance -- what they called a “quality-blind” process -- as many as three quarters of teachers deemed “effective” and “highly effective” could face dismissal, they said.

Anderson and Rodriguez in the interview said they were well aware the request would be controversial, but the district faced few alternatives.

And Anderson said while she recognized that the new teacher tenure law -- known as TEACHNJ -- provided some avenues for removing the least-effective teachers, the district needed to move more quickly than through a process that can include extensive documentation and arbitration.

"It is inaccurate to think of TEACHNJ as a panacea for addressing ineffective teachers,” Anderson said. “It is still time-intensive and expensive."

Still, the waiver process is in itself an unusual avenue for reversing literally decades of practice over how dismissals -- or what are termed “reductions in force” -- are conducted in schools.

“It is not something I understand to be common,” Jonathan Busch, an attorney with Schwartz, Simon, Edelstein and Celso, which represents close to 100 districts statewide, said of the waiver process.

Nonetheless, he and other school lawyers raised the possibility that the request could provide some discretion for the commissioner or his successor, who is expected to be named in the coming weeks.

Under the law, seniority must be the sole factor in determining dismissals. But the law also allows for the definition of seniority to be defined under “such standards” set by the commissioner and the State Board of Education.

Those standards are outlined in extensive administrative code that lays out how teachers’ experience is counted, down to the days, and it is those guidelines that Anderson seeks to waive and redefine with the addition of performance.

Under the waiver request Anderson sent to the state on Friday: “Seniority shall be calculated by placing teachers into performance categories from lowest to highest performance and then ranking all teachers within a given performance category first by tenure status and then by length of service.”

Education lawyers said it was an intriguing approach, compared with the typical path of changing those regulations through the state board, itself a lengthy process.

But a waiver could provide an alternative path, Busch said. ”There does appear argument that could be made that there is at least some wiggle room,” he said.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828



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