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Every year I read in the NJEA magazine about schools that are receiving grants for innovative educational initatives.  Have you ever thought about applying?  Leslie Dell has offered to help any BTA member that is interested in  applying for the NJEA Frederick L. Hipp grant.  Applications are due by March 1st, 2011 and grants range from $500-$10,000.  Lets see if Blairstown can earn a part of this grant money!

Proposed Pension Reform Bill

posted Feb 8, 2011, 11:07 AM by Blairstown Education Association

Legislative Update--February 8, 2011: PENSION REFORM



It’s official.  Legislators in both parties have officially introduced pension reform legislation.  Here is what we know:


As this debate heats up NJEA is working to ensure that:

  • NJEA has a seat at the table.  Lawmakers should not act on any proposals without seeking vital input from the groups that represent the workers affected by the changes.
  • The state makes regular payments into the fund.  NJEA is working to make sure that any changes made to the pension system are accompanied by the strongest legal commitment we can get to compel the state to make regular payments.  Without this, any reform is just another leaky boat.
  • Any changes to the funds are based on actuarial science and are projected to improve the stability of the funds so that they may continue to provide the benefits our members have earned well into the future.


The Democrat’s bill has been addressed in earlier updates but to review:

The bill #:       S-2696.  Makes various changes to PERS, TPAF, PFRS, SPRS, JRS including to                          board membership, control of investments, adjustments to member contribution,                            adjustments to benefits, and benefit factor for TPAF and PERS.

The sponsor:  Senate President Steve Sweeney.  Assembly Speaker Oliver is expected to                                                 introduce the Assembly version soon.

What it says: Text officially became available last night. You can read the bill at                                         

What we know :  Here is a brief outline:

·         The proposal is intended to give public employee unions more say in administering the pension systems.

·         It repeals n/55 on a prospective basis unless participants pay for the added benefit,

·         It repeals cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for any member of a state pension system with less than five years of service credit,


·         Allows members with more than five years of service credit to keep the COLA if they contribute more to the retirement system.


·         It attempts to provide stronger legal language to support the right of members of the pension systems to have a system that is funded.  (in other words…to try tocompel state to make its payments).


·         Right now current retirees would not be affected.


NJEA is at the table: NJEA has had several meetings with other public sector unions and the Senate staff members drafting the bill.  NJEA and its coalition partners continue to have concerns about the bill and will continue to work closely with the sponsors on amendments.


The Republican bill was just introduced and text for it is not yet publicly available. Both the Assembly and Senate versions have been assigned numbers.

The bill #:       A-3796 / S-2705 Makes changes to retirement benefits for members of the State-                          administered retirement systems and eliminates future COLAs.

The sponsors:            Assemblymen O’Scanlon and Chiusano. Senator Pennachio.

What it says:  No text is available.  NJEA will try to secure a copy today from the sponsors.  When it becomes available on line you can find it at

What we know: Only what is reported in the press:

  • The proposals would not affect already-retired workers.
  • All public employees would pay 8.5 percent of their wages towards pensions.
  • The retirement age would be raised to 65 for most workers. To retire early, employees would need to have accumulated 30 years on the job, rather than 25, and would be docked one-quarter of 1 percent for every month of their age under 65.
  • Pensions for most workers would be calculated on a five-year average of their highest salaries, up from three.
  • The 9 percent pension bump given to employees 10 years ago would be rolled back for current and future employees.
  • Police and firefighter retirees would see their maximum benefit shrink from 70 percent to 65 percent of their salaries.
  • Annual cost of living adjustments would be eliminated.

NJEA has not been at the table: The Republicans have neither shared their proposal with us nor invited our input thus far. 

Here is what the Republicans said when they released the bill:

With New Jersey's public employee pension program underfunded by $54 billion and in desperate need of reform, Assemblymen Declan O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth and Mercer, and Gary Chiusano, R-Sussex, Morris and Hunterdon, have introduced legislation that provides substantive improvements to the system that protects current and future retirees without placing an additional burden on property taxpayers in order to keep the plan solvent.

O'Scanlon and Chiusano's legislation requires all public employees participating in the pension program to contribute 8.5 percent of their salary to the plan; eliminates the annual cost of living adjustment; bases the amount of a retiree's pension on the average of their five highest salary years instead of three; and raises the age of certain retirees to reflect the longer life expectancy in today's society.

"The system in its present form is unworkable which is a major concern for every resident in the state," said O'Scanlon. "This legislation will provide comprehensive and substantive improvements to save the system and protect taxpayers. If we continue on our present course, public employees will lose their pensions and beleaguered taxpayers will face crushing tax increases."

Without enacting widespread changes, the $54 billion unfunded accrued liability will balloon to over $180 billion by 2041. Moody's estimates that the state's long term indebtedness, combined with the unfunded liability, costs each resident in the state $7,200.

"There are several major public policies which need to be reformed in order to make New Jersey more affordable, and the public pension program is one of them," said Chiusano. "The plan is grossly underfunded and will collapse without far-reaching systemic improvements. By enacting these measures, we will stabilize the state's pension contribution at a manageable level and ensure its long-term viability. These reforms will ease the burden on taxpayers and strengthen the pension system for our public employees."


Related articles:

Report: NJ pension crisis only to get worse

Christie: Cut benefits to fix pension fund

N.J. Assembly, Senate Republicans propose pension reform bills





Alfred Doblin Column in the Bergen Record

posted Jan 11, 2011, 8:18 AM by Blairstown Education Association   [ updated Jan 11, 2011, 8:21 AM ]

Jan. 7, 2011
TO:Local Association Presidents
FROM:Steve Wollmer, NJEA Communications Director
RE:Column by Alfred Doblin

If you haven’t yet seen today’s column in the Bergen Record by Alfred Doblin, it’s a must-read.

In fact, Doblin’s piece – which roasts Governor Christie for his attacks on NJEA, its members, former Commissioner Bret Schundler, local superintendents, county superintendents, and, by implication, every student in New Jersey – is the latest note in a rising chorus of critical news coverage of the governor. He didn’t exactly cover himself with glory in his post-blizzard news conference, either, in which he blamed everyone but his administration – including the Monmouth County mayors who diverted plows from local streets to clear the state roads that his administration failed to clear – for the mess. (That’s been a trait that more reporters are noticing: it’s never Christie’s fault; recall how he blamed President Obama, “Washington bureaucrats,” and other parties for his administration’s failed “Race to the Top” application last year, when in fact it was his administration that botched the application.)

News coverage of Christie’s attacks on NJEA members’ pensions, benefits, and tenure rights will be picking up in the days and weeks to come, and we will be weighing in on all fronts. I’ll try to share things with you as much as possible, without overloading your inboxes.

Also coming soon: a detailed list of talking points/debate points on the entire issue of using student test scores to evaluate, compensate, and terminate teachers. As you know, Christie has a hand-picked nine-member task force on evaluation working in sworn secrecy to develop a new evaluation system. What’s not a secret is that they’ve already been told to come up with a system that will require improvements in student test scores to comprise “at least 50 percent” of teacher evaluations. That task force’s recommendations are due on March 1, so it’s imperative that we enter the public debate – with parents, opinion leaders, the media, and politicians – to point out the folly of that approach. The information you’ll be receiving should enable you to discuss this issue with credibility in any forum, including letters to the editor to daily and weekly papers.

Stay tuned.

Doblin: Students are collateral damage in

Christie’s war

Friday, January 7, 2011



IT’S NOT a good time to be in education. Governor Christie declared war on the New Jersey

Education Association last year. In Christie’s English primer, Keshishian — as in NJEA

President Barbara Keshishian — is a four-letter word.

The assault on education was not restricted solely to the most powerful state teachers’ union. It’s

been like watching a very long professional hockey game. Christie first face-washed his

commissioner of education, Bret Schundler, over a compromise with the NJEA. Then the

governor went for a full body check after the state lost federal Race to the Top education funding

over a bungled application. Schundler was out of the game.

After unions and Schundler took hits, the governor aimed his sights at district superintendents.

Woe unto the superintendent who was paid more than the governor. While a state university

like Rutgers is free to spend nearly $2 million on a football coach and assume $100 million in

debt to upgrade its football stadium to ensure that the $2 million coach doesn’t leave, school

districts have to be personally micromanaged by the governor.

School budgets and superintendent contracts are currently micro-managed by state-appointed

executive county superintendents. As a parting New Year’s gift, seven of these county

superintendents read last week by e-mail, no less, that “Your last work day is today.”

Their three-year contracts expired at the end of the year — last Friday. These superintendents,

whether they represented the previous Corzine administration’s priorities rather than Christie’s,

deserved to know months in advance whether their jobs would continue. Clearly, civility isn’t

one of the things being reformed now or soon in New Jersey.

Personally, I would do away with much, if not all, of county government. Home rule is so

entrenched in the culture of New Jersey that it is impossible to eliminate local municipalities.

But there is little lasting love for county government from anyone other than the local political

power brokers who control much of state government and ensure that their sycophants have

appointed and/or elected offices.

The governor is not planning to dismantle county government. He is intent on creating chaos in

public schools. He has demoralized teachers, castigated the NJEA, publicly humiliated his nowformer

education commissioner and selectively targeted district superintendents’ salaries, while

leaving other higher-paid state employees in the clear.

Now he has undermined the worth of county superintendents, leaving a third of the state’s

counties without one.

Taking a page from New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Christie also wants to relax rules for

district superintendent qualifications. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree, managerial experience

and no criminal record could be hired. While that last requirement eliminates some former

public officials, the bar is about as low as it can go. To suggest that a good manager with no

education background is the right person to set educational priorities for an entire school

district is absurd.

Districts need strong business managers and that is the place for motivated private-sector

individuals with keen managerial experience. There may be better ways of running physical

plants, fixing boilers and replacing roofs. But the real business of schools is educating children.

Smart corporate franchises require their top managers to spend time inside their stores and

restaurants before promoting them up. If it makes sense for selling hamburgers, it damn-well

makes sense for teaching children.

It is not that the current system is working perfectly. It is not. But it is not broken on a statewide

level, either. And unlike a manufacturing plant that can be closed while it is being retooled,

public schools must remain open during the process.

Students are the casualties of Christie’s war. And it does not go unnoticed that the governor

chooses to keep his own children out of the war zone. Parents who cannot afford private schools

or Christmas vacations to Walt Disney World have little choice but to watch political weapons of

mass destruction fall on their local districts while they listen to platitudes about how it will get

better at some future date. None of that does a whit of good for children caught in the crossfire.

All New Jersey counties need superintendents as school budgets are being developed. Three

months from now is too late in the process. Unless the governor’s poorly timed Disney vacation

was a job-recruitment trip, these districts will be leaderless for awhile. But then again, given the

governor’s new standards for school leaders, he may have found seven qualified little managers

in the Magic Kingdom: Bashful, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy, Dopey and Doc. They won’t

demand salaries higher than Christie’s either; they work for a song.

Alfred P. Doblin is the editorial page editor of The Record. Contact him at Follow AlfredPDoblin on Twitter.


Pension info from NJEA

posted Jan 11, 2011, 8:09 AM by Blairstown Education Association

FROM:Barbara Keshishian, NJEA President
Vincent Giordano, NJEA Executive Director

You may have seen recent news reports regarding New Jersey’s public employee pension system. Specifically, Senate President Steve Sweeney is expected to make an announcement tomorrow regarding his plans for a pension system overhaul, while Gov. Christie is expected to roll out yet another set of pension proposals in his State of the State address on Tuesday. Some media outlets have been speculating about what the proposals will entail, and NJEA has been in discussions with legislators and others regarding what to expect from both Sweeney and Christie.

More importantly, we have been carefully studying the pension system ourselves for many months. We have met with actuaries in order to understand the magnitude of the issues the system faces. We have also asked them to study what steps are necessary to ensure the long-term health of the system and the future security of our members who are in the pension system. We have met with attorneys to make sure we know what our members’ legal rights are with regard to their pensions and any proposed changes to the system.

We have also met with legislators and discussed our concerns about the pension system. We have not come to any agreements with legislators or final conclusions about the best way to resolve the problems caused by both the economy and the state’s irresponsible funding practices. However, we will continue to pursue meetings with legislators in order to be part of the discussion and to advocate for solutions that protect both the stability of the pension system and your long-term security. We believe those solutions should come only from cooperation and mutual effort, and should not be simply imposed.

We understand that pension security is a top priority for our members. That is why it is – and will always remain – a top priority for NJEA. We will continue to do everything in our power to protect the pension fund and the security you are counting on for your retirement. We know that there are no easy solutions for fixing a system that has been so badly neglected by the state and so severely battered by the economy. We also believe that the “shared sacrifice” we hear about so often must really be shared: the state must step up and take responsibility for its pension obligations. The state’s failure to make any contribution for 13 of the last 17 years is the primary reason we face this crisis, and responsible funding must be the foundation of any real reform.

As we continue this effort, we need your help. Please contact your legislators and ask them to tell their leaders to meet with NJEA leaders to discuss the issue of pensions. Our 200,000 members must have a place at the table, and your voice must be heard and respected as we all grapple with this significant challenge.

The next few weeks and months should be very busy ones on the pension front. We will keep you informed of developments as they occur, and we will fight tirelessly to protect your best interests as we work for real, sustainable and lasting solutions to the problems our pension system faces.

Star Ledger article

posted Nov 15, 2010, 3:23 PM by Blairstown Education Association   [ updated Nov 15, 2010, 3:36 PM ]

BTA Members,
Please read the below letter from Steve Wollmer and then click on the link at the bottom of this post to read the column written by Bob Braun.  I found it very interesting to read the REAL story of one of the teachers from the "Teachers Union Gone WIld" episode produced by James O'Keefe. 
O:Local Association Press
FROM:Steve Wollmer, NJEA Communications Director
RE:Bob Braun column on victimized teacher

Every once in a while, a news story is written that gets it right, and yesterday’s column by Bob Braun in the Newark Star-Ledger falls into that category.

Many of you probably know about the sleazy “Teacher’s Union Gone Wild” video produced by “journalist” James O’Keefe. While it appeared on O’Keefe’s website in October, it was shot in August at the NJEA Summer Leadership Conference in East Brunswick. In the video, O’Keefe uses comments made by three teachers – and one in particular – to paint an unflattering picture of “the NJEA leadership.” His modus operandi was identical to prior videos he either shot or attempted to shoot: capture people on video or audio without their knowledge, edit the content selectively, and smear their reputations.

Predictably, Governor Christie jumped right on the O’Keefe bandwagon, saying “If you need an example of what I’ve been talking about for the last nine months … go watch this video.” That endorsement of O’Keefe’s work prompted a Star-Ledger editorial on Oct. 29 telling readers that Christie had “co-opted the questionable material for his political purposes.”

One NJEA member was seriously victimized by O’Keefe’s work. Alissa Ploshnick, a 16-year veteran special education teacher from Passaic, was approached by an O’Keefe operative who bought her drinks and got her to say some regrettable things, which he surreptitiously recorded, and which appeared in the video. Ploshnick became an unwitting “star,” and saw her reputation and career damaged badly as a result. She was suspended for nine days and had her increment withheld by her district.

But yesterday, Braun offered some balance to this story, pointing out that Ploshnick has an exemplary past as an educator and as a courageous woman – she saved the lives of two students in 1997 by shoving them out of the way of a speeding van, which hit her and caused near life-threatening injuries. Ploshnick admits she said some things in the video she should not have said – and would not have said if she knew they were being recorded – and has now paid a price for her mistake.

Please share Braun’s story with your colleagues. It should serve as a cautionary tale for them to always be sure who they are talking to. And, it should put the entire matter into perspective, because Ploshnick was, in Braun’s words, “sacrificed to a political cause.” Perhaps future reporting will establish a closer link between O’Keefe and the governor, but it will be too late to undo the damage to one member’s reputation and career.

Commisioner of Education SKIPS the Convention!

posted Nov 15, 2010, 2:38 PM by Blairstown Education Association   [ updated Nov 15, 2010, 3:32 PM ]

Skipping NJEA convention showed what’s wrong with government
Tuesday, 09 November 2010 11:51 
The Christie administration's decision to skip this year's New Jersey Education Association convention is an example of what's wrong with government these days.
Too often we've seen confrontation take precedence over consensus, and it's time for that to end.
It's no secret that Gov. Christie and the NJEA don't get along. Yet the governor has said consistently that his problem isn't with teachers, but with the NJEA leadership. This was a great opportunity for the administration to speak directly with those teachers, but since confrontation was the apparent priority, that golden opportunity was lost.
Political gamesmanship like this does nothing to improve the education of our children.
The governor has spent a lot of time this year speaking to mostly friendly audiences across the nation and the state. But it's important for leaders to also tread into territory that may prove more tense. Only by speaking with those who disagree with you can consensus be built.
I myself have done just that this year, speaking for instance with mayors who have been critical. It was a dialogue that while at times tough also helped lead to additional property tax reform bills. It was beneficial to everyone involved.
The acting education commissioner's decision sends a disconcerting message about the priorities of this administration. This sort of adversarial tone will only continue to hurt New Jersey's schools and those who work hard to support them.
This opportunity has come and gone, but I urge both sides to continue working to find a way to make up for it. Perhaps another meeting can be scheduled, or if easier and more practical, a teleconference held so teachers from across the state and the administration can speak directly with each other to try to accomplish the shared goal of improving education.

NJEA President Responds

posted Nov 10, 2010, 4:56 AM by Blairstown Education Association

Nov. 9, 2010
TO:Local Association Presidents
FROM:Steve Wollmer, NJEA Communications Director
RE:Barbara’s response to Christie comments

Last Friday evening, the Newark Star-Ledger reported comments that Gov. Christie made to a group of students while attending a Boys and Girls Club event in Trenton.

Even by this governor’s standards, the comments marked a new low, and today NJEA President Barbara Keshishian issued a statement to all media and opinion leaders labeling his comments “inappropriate and out of control.” Not only did Christie tell students that it was the fault of the “greedy teachers union” that they did not have adequate classroom supplies, but he also told them that “if the union cared more about all of you learning, they’d be in school” instead of attending the NJEA Convention, which he described as “a party.”

Christie is on a roll. Last week, an email over the name of his acting commissioner of education, Rochelle Hendricks, was sent to President Keshishian to inform her that Hendricks would not be attending the “Meet the Commissioner” session at the Convention. The email was hostile and filled with misinformation about NJEA members’ commitment to education reform. NJEA immediately blasted the administration, and the press descended on Atlantic City, where they not only interviewed Barbara and other NJEA spokespersons, but also got a first-hand look at the Convention. They obviously liked what they saw, because the coverage was uniformly positive. Several newspaper editorials followed, castigating the administration for snubbing the state’s educators.

Then, on Friday, Christie made his comments to the students in Trenton. NJEA members are justifiably outraged, and the governor must once again explain his inappropriate words and actions. When you click through to the statement, you will see two additional links: one to a story pointing out that teachers contribute heavily toward school supplies, and one to a video clip with the governor’s offensive comments about the Convention.

Please share this with your members.

Financial Worksheet

posted Nov 1, 2010, 7:39 AM by Blairstown Education Association   [ updated Nov 12, 2010, 1:33 AM ]

Dear Presidents,


Attached is a worksheet that will show the impact of a portion of the Governor’s “Tool Kit” on our members take home pay.
Specifically, this worksheet will show the impact of the increase in your pension contribution (from the current 5.5% to 8.5% of salary) and the increase in contribution towards health insurance (from the current 1.5% of salary to 30% of the insurance premium).


To use the worksheet, members need only to enter their current annual salary and insurance costs into the appropriate cells, which are clearly marked.
The calculations will be done automatically and show the reduction in take home pay both annually and in each paycheck.


Rep Council

posted Nov 1, 2010, 7:23 AM by Blairstown Education Association

Our first Rep Council meeting went very well.  By now you have read the notes Mark sent out addressing some of the issues that were brought up during this forum.  If you are not sure who your Rep Council person is, check out the attachment below.  Two additional staff members were added so that everyone is represented.  We plan to meet once a month to discuss items that you feel need to be brought to the attention of the administration.  Keep your ideas coming.

Legislative Update

posted Nov 1, 2010, 6:09 AM by Blairstown Education Association   [ updated Nov 1, 2010, 6:23 AM ]

  • Governor Christie appoints a nine member task force to re-vamp teacher evaluations… NJEA is not represented though parochial schools, E3, and charter schools are. In fact the task force does not contain a single current regular classroom teacher.
  • Bill capping sick leave pay passes.
  • Read more in the attachment below
From our Legislative Action Team- Kathie Park thought you all might find this interesting, we sure did!  Our "part time" assemblymen currently make $49,000 and receive health care benefits.  This is more than our first and second year teachers make in a year FULL TIME!  The bill to correct this injustice is being stalled...shocker!



Legislators and other part-time elected and appointed public officials would no longer be entitled to taxpayer-funded health and pension benefits for their current positions under a bill recently introduced by Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco.

"Taxpayers have shared in the sacrifice to correct New Jersey's excessive government spending, but those of us privileged to hold elective office should be leading by example," said DiCicco, R-Gloucester and Camden. "Overtaxed New Jerseyans should not be paying for generous health and pension benefits to part-time public officials."

Under DiCicco's proposal, A-2800, part-time appointed officials would lose their benefits immediately and elected officials would lose theirs at the beginning of their next term. Elected officials would not receive a lifetime grandfather clause.

It would also strip appointed professionals, such as lawyers or engineers, of any pension or health benefit unless they are made full-time and certify they work at least 35 hours and don't hold a similar post with another public or private entity. This provision is in response to abuses revealed recently regarding professional services contracts.

"In New Jersey, taxes have risen outrageously, while the politically-connected work the system for their own benefit," DiCicco said. "This would be a step toward correcting that injustice."

Myth vs. Reality

posted Oct 21, 2010, 8:29 PM by Blairstown Education Association

October 21, 2010
TO:Local Association Presidents
FROM:Steve Wollmer, Director of Communications
RE:"Myth vs. Reality"

We’ve heard from many of you – and from many of your members – that you could really use a set of talking points around all the key educational and economic issues that are part of the ongoing debate in New Jersey. Many members, for example, have told us: “I want to know what to tell [neighbors/friends/relatives] when they say something inaccurate about school funding, our pensions and benefits, or all these ‘reforms’ that are being discussed.”

So, here it is: It’s called “Myth vs. Reality” – an 8-page, easy-to-navigate collection of 30 common misconceptions about public education, and the facts that set the record straight.

Please feel free to share this immediately with your members, and put copies in all building offices and worksite areas.

This document will also be available at

Remember: Information is power!

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