New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy made a brief, surprise visit to the March 30 meeting of the NJEA Delegate Assembly (DA). The DA, which meets five times a year is the association’s policy-making body. It includes 127 representatives proportionately elected from the 21 counties for two-year terms. Representatives from higher education, NJREA, and NJEA Preservice also serve on the DA.
Murphy expressed pride in working alongside organizations, such as NJEA, that represent public employees.
“I do not now and will not ever consider it pandering to work side-by-side with organized labor and, in particular, public-sector employees and educators,” Murphy said. “You are our neighbors, you teach our children, and you ensure that they have the skills to achieve their dreams. You are also taxpayers. And if I’m not working with you in partnership and in good faith, well then, I am not doing my job.”
Murphy noted that in the past two years, the state has restored nearly $500 million dollars in state aid to schools, but recognized issues remain concerning cuts to in aid to numerous school districts.
“I fully recognize that some districts are currently facing funding challenges, and I have directed the Department of Education—including and beginning with the commissioner—to work alongside those school districts to ensure that we’re looking out for everyone.
“This is our commitment: to work together to find solutions,” the governor continued.
Murphy told delegates that the proposed budget includes a $3.8 billion state contribution to the pension system.
“You all paid into the fund without fail,” Murphy said. “Our administration is living up to our obligation.”
On Chapter 78, the 2011 pension and benefits law that has caused members’ health care premium contributions to outpace take-home pay, Murphy committed to working toward a fair solution. In fact, in their most recent contract, state workers have negotiated what teachers and ESP are seeking though S-2606—to tie health care premium contributions to a percentage of salary rather than a percentage of the premium cost.
“I recognize that getting things right for you, especially with regard to health care will take a different route because you don’t negotiate directly with state,” Murphy said. “But we will continue to work together to get things right and restore fairness.”
Murphy also expressed support for legislation to ensure job justice for educational support professionals (ESPs).
“I heard you loud and clear on the 116,000-plus petitions my office received,” Murphy exclaimed. “We must make sure that ESPs are treated fairly and enjoy basic justice by not having their positions unduly outsourced.”
Turning to standardized tests, Murphy proclaimed that “we are going to move our state forward doing things the right way, and doing things the right way includes making sure that classroom time is spend teaching to the needs of our kids and not to a test.”
Murphy concluded by asking NJEA members for help in passing his proposed budget, including revenue from a proposed millionaires tax—which would be invested in schools and communities. He noted that middle class and working families in New Jersey did not benefit from tax cuts at the federal level, despite proclamations to the contrary from the Trump administration. The very wealthy and the largest corporations, however, experienced a windfall. Murphy contended, that everyone benefits when the middle class is strong.
“When the middle class does well, everybody does well,” Murphy said. “A strong middle class builds a strong society and a strong economy.”