School Budget Battle Heads to the Polls in NJ
BERLIN - SEPTEMBER 18: Fourth-grade students read books in the elementary school at the John F. Kennedy Schule dual-language public school on September 18, 2008 in Berlin, Germany. The German government will host a summit on education in Germany scheduled for mid-October in Dresden. Germany has consistantly fallen behind in recent years in comparison to other European countries in the Pisa education surveys, and Education Minister Annette Schavan is pushing for an 8 percent increase in the national educaiton budget for 2009. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
New Jersey parents will vote on one of the most hot-button issues facing their state on Tuesday. It's time for school budget elections. Historically most budgets are passed without a problem, but with Governor Chris Christie urging parents to vote "no" on school budget's that don't include teacher pay freezes, this vote promises to be anything but the norm.
On the eve of the big school budget showdown it was parent vs. parent.
"I don't want my taxes going up again", one woman protested, while another said "Obviously no one wants taxes increased but there's no other option. It's worth it because the children are the most important thing."
Then there was Governor vs. Teacher.
"There has to be shared sacrifice", said Governor Chris Christie. "And the shared sacrifice has to include the teachers union."
"I do think he is a bully and I think he has bullied the NJEA", said Susan Lee Poage, an elementary school teacher.
While signs urging a "yes" vote on school's budgets scattered Berkeley Heights, some parents in this tree lined community say this is exactly why they voted for Governor Christie in the first place.
"I absolutely think we are in a tough spot", one parent, who did not want to be named, said. "And I think [New Jersey] is in real trouble and the way a governor can address these issues is to buckle down."
In an effort to balance New Jersey's 2011 budget, the Governor is cutting $820 million in state aid to schools. To offset the sizeable loss, Christie is asking NJEA to agree to a one year pay freeze as well as to contribute to its own health benefits. Districts who agree will get state incentives. But teachers aren't backing down.
"If budgets go down tomorrow the kids will suffer." Susan Lee Poage is an elementary school teacher. She says she is sick of being asked to cut back. "I am taking my fair share as a tax payer in the state of New Jersey. I pay high taxes to live here and teachers are historically underpaid."
To handle the cuts, most districts who don't include the freeze are proposing tax increases.
Loretta Hakin is one parent willing to pay more, saying "It's the school system that supports property values here."
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported on Monday that Governor Christie is spending about $2 Million more on his staff's salaries than Governor Corzine did. Governor Christie's office called the AP's report misleading, saying that Corzine's administration did not take into account the salaries of many of its "Mobility Staff" when reporting its payroll totals, while Governor Christie's administration did.