When NJEA’s Political Action Committee reviewed the records of the 2009 gubernatorial candidates, it became clear that Gov. Jon Corzine has been a staunch supporter of public education. His positions on issues affecting public school employees are very strong. Still, NJEA PAC invited all of the candidates to complete a questionnaire and be interviewed by its screening committee prior to making a recommendation.
Republican candidate Chris Christie made the endorsement decision an easy one—he did not complete the NJEA PAC questionnaire and refused to meet with the screening committee. Meanwhile, Gov. Corzine’s answers to questions about school funding and collective bargaining, among others, demonstrated his commitment to public education and his firm belief that nobody works harder for our children than NJEA members.
Following are excerpts from Gov. Corzine’s NJEA PAC questionnaire and statements made during his interview. You will also find a chart that compares the positions of Gov. Corzine and Christie on issues of significant importance to NJEA members. For more on Gov. Corzine’s record and his plans for education in New Jersey, visit www.joncorzine09.com.
New Jersey has a new school funding formula called the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). NJEA realizes that these are difficult economic times, but what will you do to ensure full funding of SFRA and the best education possible for our students?
Education has been my top priority, and that will continue. During my first term, I increased total aid for education by over $785 million. In the last year alone, I increased direct aid for education by approximately $270 million, the vast bulk of which is supporting the implementation of the new school funding formula. This increase in education funding is particularly noteworthy given the state's severe fiscal crisis, and the fact that other states across the country are cutting funding for education.
In addition to creating a more equitable distribution of school funding, another goal of the formula was to create a more predictable school funding mechanism. As a result of the formula, the state now has benchmarks to determine how much funding is needed for each district and what the state and local share should be. This helps the state to better understand how to plan and budget for school funding.
I will continue to fight aggressively to fully fund SFRA, including fighting to draw down every federal dollar possible to support education. Furthermore, I will continue to focus on strengthening the long-term fiscal health of the state, which will help to ensure long-term funding for the SFRA.
Beyond funding, I will continue to focus on strengthening the quality of the education system in
New Jersey. Our students already excel on national measures, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). However, while we're seeing notable improvements to close the achievement gap, more work is needed. I will continue to support full funding for existing high quality preschool, as well as the expansion of such programs for all children at risk because of poverty. I will also continue to work with our partners in the education community to improve the rigor of high school course work and provide students with the skills they need to compete successfully in the 21st century.
Do you support or oppose collective bargaining and tenure?
I remain a strong advocate for collective bargaining, and I remain committed to tenure for teachers. I believe tenure helps to ensure that teachers who are adhering to the core curriculum content standards are not fired for political or religious reasons.
FUNDING OF PENSIONS
What will you do to ensure that state and local government employers consistently meet their annual financial obligations to fund the retirement systems?
During my first term, I reformed the state budget process and focused on improving the long-term fiscal health of the state. I have done so through a number of measures, including requiring that recurring expenses are matched by recurring revenues, reprioritizing spending decisions, eliminating so-called "Christmas tree" spending items and bringing accountability and transparency to the budget process.
By working to protect the long-term solvency of the state, New Jersey is now in a better position to meet its annual financial obligations to fund the retirement system. These improved conditions in budgeting also improve the state's ability to ensure that local governments will be aided through municipal aid and other measures. This in turn helps local government employers meet their annual financial obligations to the retirement system.
Most importantly, I have also demonstrated my commitment to funding the pension system. During my first term, the state paid more into the pension fund than other administrations have done for defined benefit plans over the previous 15 years combined. This commitment to the pension fund clearly improves its sustainability.
POST-RETIREMENT MEDICAL BENEFITS
One of the most critical benefits of devoting a lifetime of public service to our schools is the promise that after 25 years a school employee can receive state-paid health benefits in retirement. This benefit is vital to retaining quality teachers and education support professionals in our public schools and county colleges. Will you oppose efforts to diminish these benefits for current and future retirees?
I stand committed to providing high-quality post-retirement medical benefits for current and future retirees, and I will continue to support the recommendations of the School Employees' Health Benefits Commission.
A recent law established a four percent cap on school district tax levies. NJEA does not support this cap because we think residents should have the right to invest in excellence in their school districts-particularly when they think state aid is insufficient. Would you support lifting the tax cap so that communities can maintain educational programs and services that they think are important? If not, what will you do to protect educational quality when state funding fails to meet the citizens' desires for their own schools?
As I mentioned above, I am committed to fully funding the SFRA.
There are mechanisms in place if communities seek to exceed the four percent levy cap, including the cap waiver process and the ability to advance a separate proposal, i.e. a second question. Both of these measures help to ensure that students' needs are met, and I will continue to support these measures. Also, under the statute, the levy cap will be studied after five years of implementation. I will receive the results of the implementation and take input from education stakeholders with respect to the impact of the cap as a part of that review.
Chapter 53 of the Public Laws of 2007 imposes a series of school district accountability measures including fiscal measures, efficiency standards, and budget procedures. Many of these new regulations give the commissioner of education emergency regulatory powers that interfere with collective bargaining rights. Would you support legislation to clarify that these regulations are not intended to affect the collective bargaining process?
These regulations are not intended to impact the collective bargaining process, but rather implement Chapter 53 as written and passed by the Legislature. I am open to reviewing legislation to clarify these regulations.
NJEA is seeking new legislation that will protect our members from employers subcontracting unit work during the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. The bill establishes basic principles of fairness including notifying employees 90 days before employers may request bids, maintaining recall rights, and negotiating the impact of subcontracting. Will you support this initiative?
I am supportive of this initiative, conceptually. I would like to review the details and the impact of this legislation.
MANDATORY SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION
Will you oppose legislation in the future to force consolidation of school districts without strong community involvement?
I agree that consolidation efforts should not move forward without strong community involvement.
Consolidation of school districts has the potential for both educational benefits as well as economic benefits. As currently required under the CORE Act, the executive county superintendents are currently developing plans to consolidate all districts in their respective counties to become K-12 districts. This is being done with the community's involvement, and any consolidation related to these efforts must ultimately be approved by a referendum in each impacted community. I believe this process should come to completion before any additional consolidation efforts are undertaken. The current process will help determine if additional efforts are necessary.
What are your views on legislation that would establish gun-free and weapons-free school zones where violators would face severe penalties and a law that would prohibit gun shops within 1,000 feet of a school?
The health and safety of our students is paramount. Not only do we need to protect their health and safety, but students also need to feel secure and safe in their school environments so they can concentrate on their studies and take advantage of every educational opportunity. I would support legislation that would prohibit gun shops within 1,000 feet of a school. Furthermore, I support restrictions on guns on or near school property, school buses and at school functions. And, I support severe penalties for violations of these restrictions.
SMALL NECESSITIES PARENTAL LEAVE
Do you support legislation that would provide up to 48 hours of leave time during any 12-month period so that an employee may attend or participate in school functions or school activities of his or her child? The bill does not require an employee be paid for their his or her off, just guaranteed job protection.
I fought for the passage of the Family Leave Insurance Law in New Jersey. And, I believe that this legislation is consistent with the goals of that law. Parents should have the ability to attend these important appointments and activities that improve their children's well-being. Parental involvement is critical to students' educational success.
What will you do to help ensure funding for both professional development of veteran educators and mentoring for new teachers?
I recognize the importance of mentoring and professional development to maintaining the high quality of our education workforce in New Jersey. The recent cut to teacher mentoring was required due to the severe budget shortfall; it was a necessary budget-driven decision, not a policy decision.
In my next term, I will work to fund these programs at the state level, as well as draw down any federal funding that is available or may become available to help support mentoring and professional development. For example, I will aggressively pursue funds included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; these funds can be used for teacher mentoring and professional development, both of which are consistent with the state's commitment to high quality teacher induction and school-based professional learning communities. Lastly, I will continue to pursue any philanthropic funds that become available for these purposes.