Christie blasts teachers union, calls for longer school year during back-to-school event

Christie, who has less than 18 months left in his second term, said extending the school day and school year in failing districts remains one of his education reform goals, along with installing a new funding formula that awards all districts a flat per-student amount.

He said both proposals have been opposed by the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.

"Let's have a longer school day in districts that are failing and a longer school year in districts that are failing," Christie said Tuesday during an event at the Grover Cleveland Middle School in Caldwell, Essex County, where he pointed out that charter schools have proved that the extra time can benefit students in challenging urban environments.

"Let's not pretend they're benefiting from the agrarian calendar. I know we're the Garden State. I don't know how many kids anymore are going home to tend to the fields, and that's why they get out in June," Christie said, before unleashing a series of verbal barbs at the teachers union for resisting the change in collective bargaining.

Christie, who has frequently feuded with the NJEA during his seven-plus years as governor, described the union as "New Jersey's version of the Corleones," the Mafia family from the classic "The Godfather" movies, saying it has opposed his actions, even when they benefit students.

He cited a story about meeting a fourth-grade teacher on the boardwalk in Point Pleasant and posing for a photograph with her. The teacher displayed the photograph on her classroom wall, but was told by a union rep to take it down.

"That's what Vito Corleone would do. That's what the leadership of the teachers union is all about," Christie said, adding that he considers his status as the union's biggest enemy a "badge of honor."

NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer responded that Christie was using schoolchildren as "political pawns," and that his criticism of the union was more of the same "reflexive attacks" from the previous seven years.

“Chris Christie’s obsessive focus on NJEA shows that we are making a difference. We are proud that our advocacy is so threatening to Chris Christie. Every time he resorts to name calling and fact-free attacks, it just reaffirms our commitment to pursue our vision for great public schools for every child in New Jersey," Steinhauer said.

He said the governor's school funding plan was intended to pit suburban and urban districts against each other.

Christie's proposal calls for scrapping the funding formula, which is weighted based on district wealth and the populations of impoverished and other special needs students, and implementing a new one that distributes aid equally to all students, based on a flat amount of $6,599 per child, plus some additional funding for special education programs.

Christie has said that the redistribution would result in aid increases for 75 percent of the state's districts, and that the additional money could be used to reduce property taxes. But it would also result in massive reductions for some districts, mostly urban ones.

"His school funding scheme is nothing but a ploy to force students in urban districts to subsidize tax cuts for suburban homeowners, while crippling urban schools. Among the bad things he’s proposed, that scheme stands out for its heartless cruelty," Steinhauer said.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, said Christie's latest attacks on the union were not productive.

"The governor's connotation of teachers as members of a fictional crime family does little to improve public education and only serves to cast a pall over our school system as children head back today," Singleton said in a statement.

At the event, Christie announced that he was signing several education-related bills which he claimed would "pave the way for establishing a higher-quality education, higher standards, better safety, and more transparency for those of us, the taxpayers, who are paying the bills for these schools."

One bill codifies security aid for parochial and other nonpublic schools up to $75 per student. The current year's budget provides $50 per student to those schools for security services and equipment, costing a little over $11 million.

Another bill Christie signed restricts schools from expelling or suspending students in preschool through second grade except for certain violent or sexual acts, while also requiring early detection and prevention programs for students with behavioral issues in those grades.

A third would require a review of core curriculum standards to ensure that substance abuse education is based on evidence-based standards and practices.

Christie also conditionally vetoed one bill Tuesday. It sought to establish a new class of special law enforcement officers for retired police officers that would allow them to act as paid security guards at public and nonpublic schools and county colleges.

Christie said he supports the idea but wants to require those officers to receive special training specific to working as a police officer in a school.

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