Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday said that not getting his proposed public education overhaul through the Legislature is his biggest regret of 2011.
The governor wants to implement merit pay for teachers, take away some of the job protections provided by tenure and to use publicly funded scholarships to send children in failing public schools to private schools.
None of those measures has picked up much traction in the Legislature.
"The biggest disappointment is that we didn't get any education reform and we really need to," he said in an interview on WOR-AM radio Thursday. "My parents moved me out of Newark because they wanted me to have a better public education."
That was 45 years ago, and problems in schools in the state's largest city, he said, have only deepened since then.
On average, New Jersey's schools are considered among the best in the nation, but test scores and graduation rates in several cities lag despite heavy state spending in those areas.
The Republican governor, who is heading into the third year of his term, said he expects to see some progress on the reforms in the first quarter of 2012.
Meanwhile, in the remaining weeks of this legislative session, Christie said he hopes to get rid of sick time payouts for public workers.
Christie and Democrats in the Legislature agree that the current policies on sick leave need to be changed, but are debating whether to eliminate the sick time's cash value completely, as Christie wants, or allow employees to collect up to $7,500 at retirement to discourage them from abusing sick time.
Christie has refused to budge, saying on Millennium Radio's 101.5 FM: "People should not get paid for not getting sick. It's just common sense."
Three-quarters of the state's 566 municipalities allow workers to cash out unused sick time.
According to the governor's calculations, the total current liability for the state is $825 million. He said that were the state to allow the $7,500 payout, taxpayers would be on the hook for "at least" $3.25 billion. But that number assumes that all state and local public workers would continue to work in government until they reach retirement age, which is 55; that they are eligible because they have worked 30 years; and that they all accumulate the maximum amount of time.
"I don't back off those figures at all," Christie said on 101.5 FM. "Yeah, they are the worst-case scenario. I want to prepare the public for what will most likely happen if we do nothing ... ."