Taking the Teachers' Unions Side in New Jersey: 'Radical' Cuts to Schools on the Way

New Jerseyans, angry at the stubbornness of the teachers' unions for refusing to accept wage freezes during a recession, voted down NJ school budgets. Reporter Winnie Hu takes the side of the unions: "Many school officials said students were the losers in Tuesday's elections." Meanwhile, many taxpayers said they were the winners.
New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie urged voters to use yesterday's statewide budget votes to hold the line on spending. They followed his lead, with most districts voting down their proposed budgets, an unusual occurrence, leaving districts scrambling.

Christie's spending cuts (both real and proposed) have made him the scourge of teachers' unions and evidently the Times. Thursday's report by Winnie Hu, "Schools in New Jersey Plan Heavy Cuts After Voters Reject Most Budgets," made only intermittent nods to the expressed concern of voters and taxpayers while forwarding the resentments of teachers' unions.

School officials across New Jersey said on Wednesday that they would most likely have to lay off hundreds of teachers, increase class sizes, eliminate sports teams and Advanced Placement classes, cut kindergarten hours and take other radical steps to reduce spending after 58 percent of districts' budgets were rejected by voters on Tuesday, the most in at least 35 years.

Residents went to the polls in record numbers for the normally low-profile school-budget elections, and rejected 316 of the 541 budgets on the ballot. They were angered by higher property taxes that were sought to make up for unusually large state aid reductions proposed by Gov. Christopher J. Christie, along with resentment toward teachers' unions for not agreeing to wage freezes or concessions.

For all the worries about cutbacks in education, Teaneck High School didn't worry about cutting into education time, as teachers evidently let students stage a walkout on their behalf:

At Teaneck High School, hundreds of students walked out of their classrooms Wednesday morning for an hourlong march around the school's football field to protest the budget's defeat in a vote of 4,790 to 3,618. The $94.9 million budget had called for a record 10.2 percent increase in school taxes.


In Ridgewood, where a 4 percent tax increase was narrowly rejected on Tuesday, residents have expressed frustration at recent school board meetings over what they saw as teachers unwilling to make sacrifices like everyone else in a tough economy. The district had proposed an $84.9 million budget. (Voters last rejected the budget in 2003.)

Many school officials said students were the losers in Tuesday's elections.

Hu concluded with a school superintendent warning of "devastating cuts" and warning of "heavier steps," including such underwhelming items as "cutting kindergarten to a half day, ending Spanish classes and guidance counselors in the elementary schools."

Earlier this month Hu penned a similar laundry list of threatened cuts in "New Jersey Schools Brace for Cuts," which virtually ignored teachers' union profligacy.

In contrast, columnist George Will interviewed Christie and provided the pro-taxpayer angle that Hu has consistently missed in his newest column:

Partly to pay for teachers' benefits (most contribute nothing to their health insurance) property taxes have risen 70 percent in 10 years, to an average annual cost to homeowners of $7,281. Christie proposes a 2.5 percent cap on annual hikes.

Challenging teachers unions to live up to their cloying "it's really about the kids" rhetoric, he has told them to choose between a pay freeze and job cuts. Validating his criticism by their response to it, some Bergen County teachers encouraged students to cut classes to protest his policies, and a Bridgewater high-school teacher showed students a union-made video critical of him.

Christie notes that the $550,000 salary of the teachers union executive director is larger than the total cuts proposed for 190 of the state's 605 school districts.