New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney delivered the keynote address at the 2014 NJPSA Legislative Conference and spoke earnestly and reflectively about mistakes that have been made in the past and the decisions that must be made now to help educators and the New Jersey economy. “Some of the decisions we made have really hurt education over the last few years,” he began. Many in the capacity crowd nodded in agreement.
Before answering questions from the nearly 200 principals and supervisors in attendance, Sweeney spoke at length about the reforms that were made to the pension system and the governor’s recent call to make further changes. “The governor keeps saying that we have to do further reforms, and he is flat out wrong … We are not making any more changes to the pension,” he clarified. “You are paying your share and we have to pay our share.” Sweeney conceded that the changes that were made to the pension were difficult and certainly not popular, while stressing that it was “on the road to bankruptcy. But we did the reforms we need to fix the pension, and the pension is now on its way to fiscal health.”
Countering the governor’s argument that meeting the state’s obligation to the pension will prohibit investment in all other needed areas of government including education, Sweeney said “Turning the economy around will generate revenue to help us fund things. New York State has recovered every single job they lost since the recession plus 50 percent. New Jersey has only recovered 45 percent of its lost jobs since 2008.” Offering a specific alternative, Sweeney suggested returning the millionaire’s tax to its previous level under the Corzine administration. “I’ve even offered to sunset it so that when the economy turns around, we cancel it,” he said. “We have to do something to fund other revenue sources to fund education because New Jersey’s economy is driven by education, and the lack of investment in higher education and K-12 education is hurting our economy.”
Sweeney continued to lament some of the educational reform mistakes that have been made in New Jersey and named the cap on superintendent’s salaries as a prime example. “Because of the cap on superintendent’s salaries, 25 percent of the superintendents in the state are temporary. Education can’t afford caretakers anymore,” he said. “Again, that was a big mistake. The governor has to recognize that was a big mistake. Great politics. Bad policy.”
Sweeney said that we are rushing the evaluation system and putting too many demands on educators. “How much garbage do we give you that has nothing to do with education that you have to meet?” he asked rhetorically. “Let’s get rid of the garbage and take those resources and put them back into education where they belong. If you truly want a result, then you take the time to make sure you do it the right way.”