Let teachers run the schools

Governor Christie and the New Jersey Teachers Association (NJEA) are in a war of words over his call for teachers to accept a wage freeze for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.  The governor is asking teachers to forgo any salary increase so the more than $800 million cut in state aid to school districts next year would not result in teacher layoffs.  Teachers are crying foul.  “A contract is a contract and salary increases must be honored, because the sanctity of a contract cannot be violated.”

In case public school teachers, administrators and school board members have not been following the news for the past 24 months, the country has been in a deep recession and tax revenue is way down because sales and income taxes have fallen off a cliff.  House prices are down throughout the state, which means property tax appeals are up, causing property tax receipts to fall marginally as well.  Add this all up and the result is a huge hole in the state budget and flat or declining property tax receipts at the municipal level.

Governor Christie’s call for both a wage freeze and teacher contributions to their medical insurance is reasonable given the state’s economic conditions and fiscal situation.  Instead of accepting a small one year sacrifice “for the children,” the NJEA and the vast majority of teachers are in effect saying to the governor, “We are doing such a great job in the classroom that every salary increase we get next year-or in any year–is warranted despite the revenue shortfall that provides aid to our schools.”

So instead of forgoing a small after tax increase in their income–teachers would have to pay higher federal and state income taxes and higher Social Security and Medicare taxes on their salary hikes–they want the governor to reinstate Corzine’s temporary income tax hike on New Jerseyans earning more than $400,000 so more revenue would flow in from a very small number of taxpayers to make up the shortfall.   Why?

Why are New Jerseyans who are subject to one of the highest marginal tax rates in the country supposed to be the cash cow for higher teacher salaries?   This makes no economic sense.  Targeting one segment of the population for higher taxes to fund a “public service” is discriminatory and will have long term consequences for the state’s economy, namely a flight over time of upper income residents.

If public education is  highly valued by the public, then the NJEA should call for all New Jerseyans to pay higher taxes to support their salary increases next year.

There is a simple solution to what seems like a permanent crisis in public school funding.  All public schools should become nonprofit, tax-exempt institutions, and that includes all the so-called Abbott districts.

The public schools would then be run by the teachers and administrators and overseen by a board of trustees, just like college colleges and universities are.  Parents who have the time would be appointed to advisory councils helping oversee the schools.

Funding for the teacher run schools would come from tuition, fees, grants, etc.  The state income tax would be abolished as would local school property taxes.  In short, teachers’ income would not be dependent on the taxpayers but how well they satisfy the parents and other stakeholders in the community who would be funding the schools.

If teachers think they should get salary hikes well above the inflation rate, it would not be the governor’s decision nor the state legislature’s call, it would be up to them to raise the funds to pay for their salaries and benefits.

The longer we postpone having teachers run the schools, the longer we will have a war of words between the governor–whoever he or she may be– and the NJEA.

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