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N.J. governor assails teachers union

Christie urges changes to help aid students

By Esmé E. Deprez
Bloomberg News / April 8, 2011

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NEW YORK — Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey said it would be an “obscenity’’ to not take on the teachers union, which is protecting “lousy’’ educators as he seeks to overhaul tenure and improve student performance.

The education union is “universally self-interested,’’ Christie, a first-term Republican, said during a speech yesterday in New York. Good teachers do not need unions, he said. “They’re there to protect the lousy ones so they continue to pay their dues every year.’’

Christie, 48, has clashed with the New Jersey Education Association as he pushes to change tenure, make it easier to fire the worst teachers, and tie pay to student performance. The governor said he is being attacked by union officials “because they’ve never had anyone tell them the truth and tell them publicly and tell them right to their face.’’

The governor said he doesn’t want to end tenure, but the system should be based on merit.

“We’re always going to need some kind of protection for teachers’’ to avoid arbitrary firings, Christie said.

Christie proposed eliminating tenure in his January State of the State address. In February, his acting education commissioner said teachers should lose tenure if they are ineffective.

“This isn’t about education, this is about politics,’’ Steve Baker, a spokesman for the state’s largest teachers union, said by phone. “Anytime somebody spends that much time name-calling, you can be pretty sure he doesn’t want anyone concentrating on the substance of his proposals.’’

The governor has cut school aid, implemented policies that led to larger class sizes, eliminated funding for the school breakfast program for poor children, and “flubbed’’ a $400 million federal Race to the Top grant application “because he was more interested in fighting with teachers than education reform,’’ said Patrick Diegnan Jr., chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.

“Actions speak louder than words,’’ Diegnan, a South Plainfield Democrat, said by e-mail. “The governor’s education policies have been a failure.’’

New Jersey’s Supreme Court is weighing the effects of school-funding cuts that Christie made last year to balance the budget. A judge appointed to help the high court decide the issue said March 22 that Christie underfunded education by $1.6 billion, preventing schools from offering the required “thorough and efficient’’ education. A decision may come before June 30.

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