TRENTON – A bill that seemingly contradicts the all-out educational reform efforts of Gov. Chris Christie passed the Assembly Education Committee today.
Sponsored by Chairman Patrick Diegnan (D-South Plainfield) and Assemblyman Ruben Ramos (D-Hoboken), among others, A2772 requires “the monetary equivalent of any wage or benefit concession agreed to by a collective bargaining unit to be used by the school district to offset any reduction in force initiated for economic reasons.”
The bill would essentially save teacher jobs with any savings from money saved through salary or benefit concessions.
“Our students are the ones who will ultimately benefit from this measure,” said Ramos, a teacher in Paterson, in a press release. He and others spoke highly of the benefit to kids, but neglected to mention the laid-off teachers who get saved.
“Any time we have the opportunity to maintain a more productive class size, we improve the quality of the educational experience,” Ramos said.
Mark Larkins, School Development Authority CEO, testified before the commission, updating the hold on 49 school construction projects in the state.
Only three of 52 projects are currently underway, and those shovels went into the ground before the new administration took over, Larkins said.
A $500 million bond that was recently approved will help a terribly underfunded bankroll at the SDA, especially since there is more than $200 million more in obligations than cash on hand, Larkins said.
Nothing will be green-lighted until next year, upon recommendation of a review underway.
The six major projects in SDA districts still pending approval are in Camden, Elizabeth, Passaic, Pemberton, Union City, and West New York.
But while the review is underway, 310 employees at the SDA – salaried at roughly $40 million – aren’t exactly swamped with work.
“So we have salaries of $40 million and we have 49 projects that are (pending review), is that correct?” Diegnan asked Larkins.
Vice Chair Joan Voss said it is important to find the funding. “People are expecting schools to be built because they’ve been promised.”
Larkins said charter school building funding that was recently approved by the state are “separate and distinct” from the SDA.
Voss panned beautiful, but unnecessary non-educational space: “They have atriums.”
Larkins said the process of designing the schools is under review. “Does it make sense to design every new school from scratch?” he said. “That’s what we do now.”
On past “waste, fraud, abuse,” Assemblyman Joseph Malone (R-Bordentown) said, “If somebody messes up this time they need to go to prison for a long, long time.”