Monthly Archives: April 2010

Saturday Morning Cartoons: An Elephant never forgets

I know, I know…. it’s Saturday morning and you don’t want to think of school, but in light of the recent school budget defeats learning in the classroom may become a little harder for all of us kids in the not to distant future.

So, if we need some extra credit to help us get through the school year Saturday may have to become the new Friday

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Filed under classrooms, Saturday morning cartoons, school budgets, spending cuts, Teachers

President Obama’s Weekly Address: 4/24/10 Good News from the Auto Industry

As the auto industry and financial markets begin to stabilize, the President says the government’s emergency interventions are now winding down. He pledges that real reform, particularly on Wall Street, must now begin.

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Filed under Auto Industry, bailout, financial reform, President Obama, Wall Street, weekly address

Patrick Murray: Interpreting the School Budget Vote

posted by Patrick Murray on his Real Numbers and Other Musings blog

Yesterday, New Jersey voters did something they haven’t done in more than 30 years: defeated a majority of school district tax levies. [Note: I’m calling them “levies” here because that is more accurate. Voters don’t really have a say on the spending portion of the operational budgets of their local schools. They only get to vote on the amount in property taxes that the district proposes levying for the year.]

They also turned out in record numbers. The final statewide vote count hasn’t been compiled, but it is somewhere north of 20% of all registered voters. That may not sound like much, but the previous high for school elections, going back to at least 1976, was 18.6%. 1976 was also the last time a majority of school levies failed. That year, 56% went down. This year, it looks like 59% have been tossed out by voters.

A Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll released last week found that 29% of registered voters – if they did vote – would support their local school levies, while 37% would oppose them. Based on a sampling of county returns, it looks like that 8 point margin may hold up in the final statewide vote.

There are some other interesting findings as well. Taking Middlesex County as just one example, compared to the April 2009 election, turnout in this one county was up by 65%. The number of “No” votes went up by 90%. But the number of “Yes” votes also went up, albeit by a lower 40%. In other words, turnout increased on both sides of the issue.

So what does this all mean?

Chris Christie and his supporters have claimed victory, saying that New Jersey voters sided with the governor in his battle with the state teacher’s union, the NJEA. However, the governor urged voters to defeat budgets in districts where the teachers made no concessions – and a good number of these actually passed. On the flip side, in the few districts where teachers actually agreed to wage freezes or other concessions – the districts one would expect to be rewarded if voters were out to show support for the governor – a good number (anywhere between 6 and 13 depending on what you count as a “concession”) of the school budget levies failed.

The NJEA claims that the school vote was a repudiation of the governor’s draconian cuts in school aid which forced school boards to raise property taxes in order to maintain needed programs and services. Maybe, but polls also indicate that the public expected teachers to be willing to take pay freezes and pay for their benefits.

Local school boards say the vote was the product of a rush to make drastic cuts in a short time frame with few available tools to lessen the pain for both the educational system and the taxpayers. They may be partially right, but polls consistently show that voters believe there is a whole lot of waste in school spending to begin with.

So, here’s what we know about the New Jersey public:
1. They think the size of the cuts in state aid to local schools is unfair.
2. They think the teachers’ unions should be willing to come to the table and agree to a wage freeze and benefit contributions.
3. They don’t want educational programs cut.
4. They don’t want their property taxes raised.

All of these are reasons why Garden State voters voted yesterday. They are the reasons why more people than usual turned out to vote “No.” And they are also the reasons why more people than usual turned out to vote “Yes.”

Anyone who claims with certainty that any of these reasons is the main factor behind a majority of school levies going down yesterday is just blowing smoke….

Read more >>>Here

Patrick Murray is the founding director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute and is a frequent media commentator on politics and public opinion,

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Filed under budget cuts, Gov. Chris Christie, Monmouth University / Gannett New Jersey poll, Patrick Murray, school budgets

With The School Budget Defeated what’s In Store for Middletown?

The voters have spoken and the words that they spoke yesterday all started with the word “NO”; “No” to the school budget, “No” to the incumbents, “No” to the teachers, “No” to higher taxes and “No” to the kids of Middletown.

So now with “No” being the word of the day, what’s in store for Middletown after the dust settles and reality sinks in?

With residents voting “No” on the school budget, the school budget will be sent to the Township Committee for review. The Committee will look it over and decide if there is anything left within the bare bones $140M budget to cut. Without a clear idea of where to make specific cuts, they will in my opinion, make a token gesture at cutting a few hundred thousand dollars from the budget and insist that the Board of Education eliminate excess administrators from its staff, thereby seemingly to save after school and extracurricular activities.

By voting out all the current incumbents, Pat Walsh, Dawn Diorio and Leonora Caminiti from the Middletown Board of Education, residents have lost strong and experienced voices that always had the best interests of the students first and foremost in their minds while making policy decisions.

In their place you will have 3 unproven individuals in Vincent Brand (who has never attended a Board of Education meeting in his life), Michael Mascone (President of Middletown Soccer League, who wants to open up the turf fields at the high schools to his soccer kids) and Chris Aveta (who as a member of the Carteret BOE became a caustic member of that board and became known for his confrontational incidents with teachers and administrators while serving just 1 term). All three, despite their denials to the contrary, were recruited by and sponsored by the members of the Middletown GOP in order to gain influence over the school board.

I can only hope that Brand and Mascone were being sincere when they told me at the April 16th BOE Candidate Forum that they would be their own men and not succumb to pressure from GOP members on the Township Committee who they barely know.

Those that voted “No” on the school budget fell for the caustic anti-teacher, anti-tax rhetoric touted by Governor Christie in his battle with the teachers union. Christie couldn’t legally break contracts that Governor Corzine negotiated with state labor unions, so he attempted to have local municipalities circumvent the collective bargaining process for him by taking local school board surpluses and cutting state school aid, forcing Middletown and other districts throughout the state to announce massive layoffs of teachers and support staff. All of which Governor Christie said could be avoided it teachers agreed to a one year wage freeze and contribute more to their health and pension benefits as a way to control property taxes.

Unfortunately the governor wasn’t being honest with people in Middletown; Christie took $11M away from the school system. That type of funding cut could never have been made up with wage and benefit concessions from teachers alone. Layoffs, cuts to student services and a tax increase were going to be needed regardless of whether or not the Middletown teachers agreed to open and renegotiated their labor contract. By rejecting this budget there will be no significant impacted on the amount of property taxes that Middletown residents pay.

Finally, how will the rejection of the school budget affect the children of Middletown? That will ultimately depend on the Township Committee and how many additional cuts they chose to make to it.

Further cuts to the budget could mean that sports programs and extracurricular activities are eliminated, an increase to class size and maybe in a worst case scenario redistricting of the school system by closing 1 or more schools.

But before making further cuts to the budget the Township Committee should keep in mind that many students rely on extracurricular activities for college entry. Admissions officers at colleges look for “well-rounded student”, who not only get excellent grades, but who also play sports, perform in the band, join clubs and/or work a job.

Rejection of the school budget does have consequences that a majority of voters may not have realized at the time of their vote. I hope that their short sightedness and temporary anger at the teachers for not accepting a wage freeze does not have an adverse affect on the kids of Middletown, who on the contrary to what Governor Christie said about the teacher throughout the state using them as pawns in their fight against him, it is in fact Christie who has used the students as pawns against the teachers union.

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Filed under budget cuts, Gov. Chris Christie, Middletown Board of Education

Middletown Vote “Yes” On The School Budget


Today’s the day; finally it’s time to vote on the school budget and chose those that we feel will represent the best interests of our children and community here in Middletown. I intend to vote in favor of the budget and for those that have shown that they really care about the future in which our kids are heading and I encourage all that read this blog to do likewise.

We will all vote to either approve or disapprove the school budget for our own reasons. I chose to vote “Yes” on the school budget because as a member of a community that values our children’s future it would be irresponsible for me to do otherwise.

Voting “No” today on the current Board of Education budget proposal will only lead to further cuts to the budget that has already been trimmed by $9.6 million. This budget has been cut to the bare bones, there is nothing left to cut without directly affecting the quality of our kids education.

Those that take Gov. Christie’s advice and vote against any school budget that does not include a teacher’s wage freeze and higher contributions to health care are naive to think that it would make a difference in Middletown.

Governor Christie took $11million dollars worth of state aid away from Middletown, a temporary wage freeze and a 1.5% contribution toward benefits by the teachers in no way would make up for that loss.

Christie is making teachers a scape-goat in his fight against unions and is trying to have local municipalities do for him what he wasn’t able to do on the state level, which is break already negotiated contracts with the unions to circumvent their collective bargaining agreements.

It’s a fight that Middletown students cannot afford to participate in; 124 individuals will be losing their jobs come June, 72 of which are teachers, larger class sizes and the loss of individual attention to students needs are looming.

The Asbury Park Press has an editorial today that asks to “Think before you cast your ballot today” it states:

…voters should support budgets where districts have worked hard to economize and vote against those where not enough has been done to control costs.” And “…Some districts have worked hard to save taxpayer money all along and should not be punished for it now…” “…If your district made every effort to excise all the fat from the budget, this year and in the past, support it…

This is the exact case in Middletown; the Board of Education has worked extremely hard over the years to control costs but regardless of those efforts Middletown students are being penalized for other districts excesses.

The editorial concludes with:

“…But bear in mind that a defeated budget will likely amount to little more than a protest vote. The better option may be to take it out on incumbent school board members, replacing them with more fiscally prudent candidates, and putting pressure on state lawmakers to approve reforms that will help contain the salaries and benefits of teachers and all public employees. “

I agree with the first sentence of the above quote, if the Middletown school budget is defeated it will amount to little more than a protest vote due to the fact that the Township Committee will then only make a token effort at spending cuts. But be aware, any more spending cuts to the budget could lead to more teachers being laid off and extracurricular activities being eliminated.

The second part of the quote in general I agree with, however in Middletown that is not the case.

The incumbents on the board of education over the years have done a fine job overseeing the education of our students and they are one of the reasons why Middletown had been voted one of the best places to live in the United States by Forbes Magazine a few years ago.

While I am not officially endorsing candidates for the Board of Education, I believe that you couldn’t vote wrong if you choose all three current members Pat Walsh, Dawn Diorio and Leonora Caminiti for new terms. They have worked extremely hard over the years to ensure our kids receive a quality education while keeping the tax rate one of the lowest in all of Monmouth County. They have continually seen to it that tax rate increases have remained below state mandated caps and have even done a better job at keeping rate increases lower than the Township Committee has done over the past 5 years.

If you decide to use your vote as a protest in order to vote against the budget or for unproven candidates that may have political agendas or ties to Middletown Republican Party and have never even attended a Board of Education meeting than you get what you deserve; a school board that will be crippled by undo political influences and essential services, like after school activities and sports being eliminated.

I don’t want that happening in Middletown, neither should you.

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, budget cuts, Gov. Chris Christie, layoffs, Middletown Board of Education, school budgets, Teachers

NJPP Monday Minute 4/19/10: Christie budget gets an "F" in higher education cuts


In preparation for yearly budget hearings, the Office of Legislative Services analyzes each state department and posts analyses online. Because the Christie administration was slow to provide budget details this year, OLS analyses are less comprehensive than in past years. The information available, however, details significant changes in the administration’s proposed appropriations for higher education.

OLS’ Higher Educational Services report estimates that resources available to students and institutions of higher education will be nearly 14 percent less than current year spending. Of the more than 30 detailed changes included in this analysis, only one represents an increased appropriation.

COLLEGE FUNDING
Because state funding to colleges and universities has decreased while operating costs increased, state support as a share of college budgets has declined precipitously – from an average across all of the colleges and universities of 48 percent in 1990 to less than 14 percent in the budget Gov. Christie has proposed for FY 2011. Cuts in institutional funding and caps on tuition and fees limit the number and scope of courses colleges can offer.

TUITION AND FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE
The Christie administration proposes reductions in support to state colleges and universities, and funding cuts to all financial assistance programs but one.

On average, college tuitions in New Jersey are already among the highest in the nation. A survey for 2007-2008 by The College Board ranked New Jersey’s $9,984 in-state average tuition and fees as second only to Vermont’s $10,428.

As tuition and fees have grown, student assistance also has generally increased – until this year. Tuition Aid Grants (TAG) and the New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship I and II (NJSTARS) are the state’s largest aid programs. TAG may see a cut of $10.9 million to $292.6 million in FY 2011. Currently, one in three full-time New Jersey college students receives a TAG grant. The budget estimates that TAG appropriations will support 63,735 students in academic year 2010-2011, 924 more than in 2009-2010. It will support more students, in part, because awards to students at private colleges would be much smaller due to a reduction in the maximum size of these awards.

The budget plans to increase the NJSTARS programs by $1.46 million to $20.1 million. This is the only increase identified in the OLS analysis. But while it is expected to support 2,100 students in college now (252 more than in 2009-2010), incoming freshman students to county colleges who do not already have a scholarship lined up are out of luck. No support will be available to them for the foreseeable future.

THOMAS EDISON STATE COLLEGE
Perhaps the most bizarre recommendation regarding higher education in the FY 2011 budget is the elimination of the $5.3 million appropriation to Trenton’s Thomas Edison State College (TESC) and the recommendation that it (along with the state library and the state museum) be transferred to Rutgers University “as a new model for the revitalization of Trenton’s cultural district.” Presidents Pruitt at TESC and McCormick at Rutgers reportedly heard about this plan only shortly before the Governor’s budget address.

The colleges have little in common and seem to have little to offer one another. TESC’s instructional program is not provided through a traditional classroom but as distance learning through online courses. According to NJ Biz, TESC’s 18,206 students make it the second largest institution of higher education in New Jersey (after Rutgers and just ahead of Montclair State University). Just under half of its students are active duty military personnel; the remainder are non-military and about 5,500 of them are New Jersey residents. Because TESC has no residential facilities and no campus-based classrooms, its costs are lower. Its $4,815 in-state and $6,840 out-of-state tuition and fees are respectively about 40 percent and 33 percent of those charged at Rutgers.

It is unclear how either institution would gain. Rutgers limits the number of credits that can be transferred from other institutions; TESC does not. Rutgers limits the number of credits that can be earned through testing, prior learning assessment or from military and/or corporate training; TESC does not. Rutgers has few programs tailored to adults and has limited experience with online education for adults; this is TESC’s bread and butter. Rutgers operates on a traditional academic calendar; TESC begins a new semester each month, enabling students to begin when they are ready and finish when they complete their degree requirements.

Considering these differences, it is difficult to believe anyone thought about this much at all-particularly when it must happen by July 1 after less than four months of deliberation. In a budget as loaded with controversy and questionable decisions as this one, what really is the point here and who benefits?

FLUNKING OUT
A recent update of NJPP’s 2006 report Flunking Out: New Jersey’s Support for Higher Education Falls Short found that the budget cuts proposed by the Christie Administration will likely lead to tuition increases, a serious hardship as the state-and the nation-struggle with recession. The further erosion of state support will make it more difficult for the state’s colleges and universities to maintain their current programs and will curtail growth. The longer the state waits to invest in these institutions, the more expensive it will be to do it.

Gov. Christie is well aware that New Jersey institutions of higher education are under-funded. His own transition team reported that, “…some [are] grossly under-funded, so more funding for operating support would be a positive thing, especially given NJ’s bottom-of-the-nation ranking in funding changes for higher education over the last several years.”

Education is vital for those entering the job market, for those in low-level jobs and for the unemployed. The higher tuition rates rise, the tougher it will be to get that education. The state’s future and economic vitality is a function of the quality of its workforce. Without a quality workforce, New Jersey will limit its ability to participate in a high tech economy.

The state’s decision makers need to consider strong support of New Jersey’s universities as a vital and necessary investment in New Jersey’s future and economy – this budget proposal does not take this long-range view.

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Filed under budget cuts, financial aid, Gov. Chris Christie, higher education, Monday Minute, New Jersey Policy Perspective, tuition assistance

Patrick Murray: Conflicting Polls on the Teachers’ Union? Not Really.

Patrick Murray, who is the founding director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute and is a frequent media commentator on politics and public opinion, has posted on his blog an explanation for the seemingly conflicting poll results that were released last week dealing with Governor Christie’s budget, school aid cuts and state unions. He points out that even though the three polls seem to tell conflicting storys. they don’t. The separate polls “really tell separate pieces of a cohesive – but nuanced – story.”

Here’s what he has to say:

A trio of polls were released last week on Governor Chris Christie’s budget, particularly focusing on school aid cuts and state unions. According to at least one report, these polls were “seemingly at odds” with one another (also here). But if you look at what the three polls actually asked, they really tell separate pieces of a cohesive – but nuanced – story.

The Eagleton Poll (and here) found 57% of New Jerseyans feel that school aid should not be cut and 72% are opposed to “making it easier” to lay off teachers to solve local budget problems.

The Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll found 68% of the public see the cuts as being unfair to some groups (with teachers being among the top “victims”) and Governor Christie is seen as the more negative party in the NJEA dust-up, and ultimately more responsible for the impending teacher layoffs.

The Rasmussen Poll found 65% of likely voters favor having school employees (including teachers, administrators and other workers) take a one year wage freeze to help make up for the deficit in state funding.

I really don’t find anything too contradictory in those results. Public opinion is rarely black and white (as national polling about the health reform debate dramatically illustrates). The real difference in these three polls is that each chose to cover a different facet of the issue.

Both the Eagleton and Monmouth polls asked residents about their opinion of the governor’s proposed budget and how it will affect them personally.

Eagleton also asked quite a few questions about what areas of the budget should or should not be cut and what, if any, tax increases the public is willing to accept in order to avoid those cuts (none, apparently).

Monmouth’s survey included questions on impressions of Christie’s budget in comparison to Jon Corzine’s first budget (trends are a wonderful tool for providing context) and a focus on communication with the general public, including the NJEA battle and reaction to key terms used to describe the budget (e.g. “tough” and “fair”).

Rasmussen’s poll asked four questions, mainly focused on state worker concessions to deal with the budget crisis.

In terms of election polling, Rasmussen has a very good track record and, by my reckoning, had the most accurate final pre-election poll in last year’s gubernatorial race. [And admittedly, Monmouth, along with Zogby, YouGov, and Democracy Corp, came up with the wrong end of the stick in the final days of that campaign. Eagleton did not issue a final election poll.]…

You can read more >>> Here

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Filed under Gov. Chris Christie, Monmouth University, Monmouth University / Gannett New Jersey poll, Patrick Murray, State aid cuts, Teachers, unions