Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Christie can't take the heat in Paterson

Chris Pedota/The Record
Apparently Gov. Christie heeded the old saying, "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen" and high-tailed it out of the Silk City after uttering about 25 words in his swearing in of Mayor Jose Torres. But I don't think it was the typical Jersey-style summer-in-the-city, +90° hazy, hot and humid weather that forced him out. No, I think it was the approximately 50 Paterson education professionals who showed up armed with their best teacher voices to protest. Clad in red shirts to symbolize Trenton's bleeding of the school district, they were there to deliver a message to Gov. Christie: state control is hurting their students, their schools and profession, and forcing many education professionals out of their jobs because they can no longer support their families and pay their bills.

Armed with signs that highlighted among other things, the 23% raise he recently gave his staff (because apparently they've taken on more of a workload—and the rest of us haven't), the educators repeatedly chanted, "Christie's got to go!" One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told me she is thinking about leaving the profession because she just can't afford to stay in it. "I haven't had a raise in 4 years; my paycheck is getting smaller; I'm struggling to keep a roof over my head; and the amount of work I now do is overwhelming. There's got to be a better way. I love what I do, but I have a family. I can't work for free."

The Paterson Education Association and the state did reach a tentative contract deal in the spring, which the association is now in the process of ratifying. But some of those I spoke with in the crowd are not happy with it. They feel it's dividing the association with different salary guides and retro pay for different job descriptions and degrees/certifications. 

For the record: 

  • This was not an official Paterson Education Association event.  
  • I have no knowledge of the contract; I'm only reporting what I heard. 
  • No contract is perfect and there are always some members who are not happy.



One educator told me that she was there today not so much for contractual issues, but for the quality of education her students are—and aren't—receiving. "I have students who come to school after seeing their friend shot and killed. What am I supposed to do? We don't have enough grief counselors or crisis intervention counselors. I'm not equipped to deal with those issues. I'm not a therapist."

And yet educators are now evaluated based in part on their students' test scores. How does a child even attempt to take a standardized test when they're suffering like that? 

The nationwide, grass-roots educator group, BATs (Bad-Ass Teachers), had a presence. This organization, while sporting what some might consider a 'militant' name, is highly organized, very vocal and very, very smart in terms of messaging and mobilizing its members, who work at all levels of education from elementary through college level. 

While the crowd was loud, it was respectful. And as the event wound down, police and firefighters, some in full dress uniforms who had been standing out in the blistering heat all that time, personally thanked us for protesting. 

Police, Firefighters, Educators: New Jersey's finest, bravest and smartest. We are #JerseyStrong!