New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has extended the deadline for additional state aid in exchange for teacher salary freezes. Last month, the governor announced he was cutting aid by five percent of each district’s school budget to reduce spending by $800 million. Many school districts are struggling between deeper cuts and property tax hikes. One variable that has proven almost impossible for school boards to change is teachers’ salaries. The unions are squarely against re-negotiating their contracts. To date, 96 of roughly 600 districts have accepted teacher salary freezes. The unions are insisting on a 4.5% pay hike at all costs even if it means closing athletic fields and slashing custodial, cafeteria and support employees.
The carrot of additional aid in exchange for a salary freeze is part of a larger strategy to get a handle on local government spending. The Governor’s plan includes introducing a property tax cap styled on Massachusetts Prop 2 and 1/2 as well as reform of collective bargaining rules to end the ever-escalating inflation in public sector salaries and pensions. The first test of Christie’s budget plan is on April 20th when residents vote on school budgets.