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5-4-12 Education Issues in the News
The Record - Christie applauds court ruling limiting sick-day payouts for school chiefs … “…It remained unclear on Thursday whether the ruling could set a precedent regarding that and other salary and benefits caps going forward.…It’s a possibility and it will be a concern to many folks who are dealing with (administrative) turnover,” said Lynn Strickland, head of the Garden Coalition of Schools... “The issue of law or regulations superceding contracts is a big issue with pluses and minuses.”

Bloomberg - Christie Says Vouchers Are Needed to Repair Poor Schools

The Record - Christie applauds court ruling limiting sick-day payouts for school chiefs “…It remained unclear on Thursday whether the ruling could set a precedent regarding that and other salary and benefits caps going forward.…It’s a possibility and it will be a concern to many folks who are dealing with (administrative) turnover,” said Lynn Strickland, head of the Garden Coalition of Schools... “The issue of law or regulations superceding contracts is a big issue with pluses and minuses.”

Thursday, May 3, 2012 Last updated: Friday May 4, 2012, 12:21 AM  BY PATRICIA ALEX STAFF WRITER

 

The Christie administration is hoping that a unanimous court ruling — that upheld a $15,000 cap on payouts to school leaders for sick time they accrue — will provide momentum for its drive to eliminate the benefit for all public employees.

The state Supreme Court, in a decision released Thursday, overturned an appellate court to find that the state-imposed cap is valid.

“This ruling sides with New Jersey taxpayers and sends a clear signal that the first step toward reform in 2007 to limit the abuse of unused sick pay benefits was a strong move in the right direction,” said Kevin Roberts, the governor’s spokesman.

“Sick days are for when you’re sick, not as a retirement bonus, and should have no cash value moving forward.”

The ceiling was enacted as part of a pension reform package pushed by Governor Christie and passed by the Legislature on the heels of high profile cases involving school administrators who accumulated huge sums at retirement - one topping $500,000 – based on sick and vacation time they had accumulated over decades.

A number of bills have been introduced in the legislature that limit the retirement payouts going forward and State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has drawn a bill that would eliminate them entirely. Negotiations are ongoing and legislative leaders believe action could come on the bills before summer.

“The Senate president is committed to sick leave reform,” said Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Democrats in the Legislature.

Thursday’s ruling rebuffed an attempt by the New Jersey Association of School Administrators to set aside Department of Education regulations that imposed the cap.

The administrators association has separately contested the Christie administration’s $175,000 pay cap for school superintendents, also imposed through education department regulations. The ruling on Thursday did not specifically address that issue but did find that the department is allowed to set regulations, and caps, that apply to local employment contracts.

It remained unclear on Thursday whether the ruling could set a precedent regarding that and other salary and benefits caps going forward.

The school administrators group argued that the regulations setting the cap were invalid because they reduced tenure rights. But the state’s highest court said the regulations were legitimate since they applied only to contracts entered into after the cap was placed in 2007.

“It addresses a benefit that really we can’t afford anymore,” said Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association. “You don’t see it in other sectors of employment.”

Administrators can still cash out time accrued before 2007. Just this week, the state department of education found that State Senator Nicholas Sacco, D-North Bergen, was not entitled to $180,000 in sick time he accrued at Assistant Schools Superintendent in his hometown district since 2007. The state found the new regulations prohibited the payout despite unclear wording in his contract that indicated it might be forthcoming.

However, Sacco is still entitled to $143,560 accrued before the regulations went into effect. Sacco, who is also mayor of North Bergen, earns $233,725 as an administrator in the district – a sum above the cap for his boss, the district superintendent.

The cap has created such inconsistencies in other districts as well and led to an exodus of superintendents throughout the region, including many longtime school leaders in Bergen County.

Christie pushed for the superintendents’ cap saying many salaries in small districts were exorbitant and that the administrators did not deserve to make more than the governor.

Some observers, like Belluscio, the school boards spokesman, said he believed the sick-time cap might not provide a precedent in the suit against the pay caps. “Obviously this does put a constraint on local contracts going forward but I look at this as two separate issues,” Belluscio said.

 “It remained unclear on Thursday whether the ruling could set a precedent regarding that and other salary and benefits caps going forward.…It’s a possibility and it will be a concern to many folks who are dealing with (administrative) turnover,” said Lynn Strickland, head of the Garden Coalition of Schools, an advocacy group based in Bergen County. “The issue of law or regulations superceding contracts is a big issue with pluses and minuses.”

This report contains information from The Star-Ledger. Email: alex@northjersey.com

 

Bloomberg - Christie Says Vouchers Are Needed to Repair Poor Schools

By Terrence Dopp - May 3, 2012 3:39 PM ETThu May 03 19:39:14 GMT 2012

New Jersey Governor Chris Christiesaid school vouchers are needed to repair a public-education system that has left students unprepared for college and work.

The first-term Republican said he will push the Democratic-controlled Legislature to pass a test program by July 1 that would offer private funding to help parents send students in failing districts to other schools.

The governor has been urging lawmakers for more than a year to approve his proposed education overhaul, which also would institute merit pay for teachers and make it easier for administrators to fire educators deemed inadequate. The voucher program is “the tool that has the chance to get the most change, the most quickly,” Christie said during a speech inJersey City to advocates of so-called school-choice programs.

“Parents cannot wait for us to get it together anymore,”Christie said. “In New Jersey, we’ve been trying to figure this out for 30 years. We’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars and we still haven’t got it.”

Christie, who took office in January 2010, has feuded with leaders of the state teachers union over his proposals and has accused Democrats of being recalcitrant on efforts to fix the state’s schools.

‘Entrenched Interests’

New Jersey spends more than $17,000 per pupil per year, the most of any U.S. state, yet 100,000 students attend schools that don’t meet educational standards, Christie has said. Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, spends $24,000 per pupil, and just 23 percent of the kids who entered ninth grade this year will get a diploma in four years, the governor said.

People “cannot trust entrenched interests” such as the teachers union to repair public education, Christie said at theAmerican Federation of Children’s National Policy Summit.

The group’s chairman, Betsy DeVos, is a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. Other scheduled speakers during the two-day conference include Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and state legislators from as far away as California. Kevin Chavous, a senior adviser to the group, said education is the “civil-rights issue of the 21st Century,” and 14 states and Washington D.C., have implemented school-choice programs.

‘Red Meat’

Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the union whose leaders Christie has called“political thugs,” said research doesn’t support his proposals. Vouchers sap money from public schools as children leave, Wollmer said in a telephone interview.

“We’re used to it, but now he’s playing on a national stage,” Wollmer said. “He was giving out red meat and telling them what they wanted to hear.”

Wollmer denied Christie’s statement that union leaders are“bullies” who have blocked changes to the education system in part by using a “slush fund” created by $130 million in member dues each year. The spokesman said the organization collects about $100 million each year that is used to fund teacher training and represent educators.

Christie, who proposed tougher high school-graduation tests earlier this week, said current student diplomas “don’t represent what we tell them” and twelfth graders are being tested for reading and math at eighth-grade levels. A failing education system will lead to dysfunctional families, drug abuse, higher crime “and even worse, despondency,” he said.

“This year my budget proposes $8.8 billion in direct aid to K-12 education, the highest amount ever proposed by any governor in our state’s history, and yet I know that much of that money will be wasted,” Christie said. “How much longer are we going to permit that to happen?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net


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



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