KEARNY – Gov. Chris Christie Monday zeroed in on his elusive issue of education reform, taking shots at the teachers union for its resistance to his policies to reform tenure, award merit pay and for the huge amount it spent last year on advertisements against his proposals.
This town hall was different in that there was an introductory short film, setting the state for his rock-star like welcome. 70,000 private sector jobs. Tax revenues going up because more people are working.
He mentioned the $8.8 billion his proposed budget calls for investing in K-8 education, one of the highest ever.
Christie said the teaching industry doesn’t recognize, at least financially, effective teachers from ones who are not. The system only recognizes years of service.
“The great teachers don’t get any more money than ineffective ones,” he told a not-quite-full town hall at a gym in Kearny. “We don’t reward people on how well they do. The longer you stay, the more money you will receive. It’s the only place in American life where this happens.”
He called for merit bonuses to change the current way of doing things. “There is no consideration for merit, no consideration for achievement…The union wants to keep everyone equal.”
He dismissed the teachers union argument that putting in place merit pay “will kill camaraderie” in the schools, saying employees in successful corporations like IBM and Google are paid on the basis of merit.
He said union members paid $731 each last year in dues. Members could opt out, he said, but would still need to pay 85 percent of the dues.
“For people in my generation, this is like Hotel California,” he said, referring to the lyric from the popular Eagles song that “you can check out any time you like but you can never leave,” a remark that received laughs.
He wondered why more of that money is not being spent on teacher improvement programs.
“Why are they not spending some of their $130 million on that,” he asked.
One teacher, who would not identify herself but would only say she was a member of the NJEA, told Christie she was initially “scared” to ask him a question, given all the name-calling that has taken place between the two sides.
Her remark generated a laugh from Christie and the audience.
“I just wish our dialogue was more open to an honest exchange,” the woman said. “I hope in the future we can find a way to work together.”
When she suggested that both sides sign a pledge to end the name-calling, Christie asked, “You want to run for president of the teachers union?”