Monthly Archives: July 2015

Star-Ledger’s Mulshine asks question, ignores answer, writes column

Anyone who wants more evidence of the Star-Ledger op-ed page’s general anti-union, anti-public education slant–typically led by editorial board editor Tom Moran–need look no further than today’s column by Paul Mulshine entitled “Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto’s pension plan sounds a lot like Chris Christie’s.”

Mulshine, who tried but was evidently unable to reach Speaker Prieto for comment, says he asked NJEA Director of Communications Steve Wollmer “how the state could come up with the cash to make [the pension] payments” outlined in Prieto’s plan.

Here’s Mulshine’s reporting of Wollmer’s response (emphasis mine):

I asked Wollmer what level of new taxes or spending cuts could make this pig fly, or at least put lipstick on it.

“Everyone talks about the millionaires’  tax,” he said. “That’s $700 million a year.”

Sounds good, but that’s just a fraction of the $4.3  billion annual payment recommended by actuaries.

Other than that, Wollmer couldn’t come up with any suggestions for big-ticket revenue-raisers. Instead he reiterated the line the union’s been pushing to avoid that question.

“The teachers didn’t create this problem and have been paying into  the fund,” he said.

Many people, NJEA members included, were angered by various aspects of Mulshine’s column–and there was evidence of as much in a discussion thread on a closed Facebook group for current, retired, and student members of the New Jersey Education Association. After all, it seems that virtually everyone who’s been paying attention to the pension crisis is aware of Chris Christie’s promises to public employees that he wouldn’t touch the pension system, his subsequent 2011 pension reforms, his failure to follow the law he himself signed in 2011, and the court battle that resulted in a judge declaring part of the 2011 reforms unconstitutional. And it also seems that virtually everyone who’s been paying attention is aware of the many, many, many, many ways that the governor has squandered billions of dollars that could have closed the pension gap–and the changes legislators could make to put the pension fund on the track to solvency.

So how could it be possible that the Director of Communications of the New Jersey Education Association was unable to come up with any solutions–other than the millionaire’s tax–to the pension crisis? How could he have so little to offer in response to Mulshine’s question?

The answer, not surprisingly, is that NJEA Director of Communications Steve Wollmer had plenty to say to Paul Mulshine: but Paul Mulshine chose to ignore what likely amounts to 99% of what Wollmer described on the NJEA Facebook group thread as a 45-minute phone conversation the two had on Friday.

During that conversation, when Mulshine asked how NJ could come up with the money to fund the pension system, Wollmer says he suggested a corporate excise tax, a gasoline tax, an end to Christie’s muti-billion dollar tax credit giveaways for zero job creation, and a millionaire’s tax–but It seems that Mulshine ignored all but Wollmer’s final suggestion.

And then Mulshine accused Wollmer of reiterating the “line the union’s been pushing” (about teachers not creating the pension crisis) to “avoid” answering the question about funding.


Put simply, Mulshine’s claim that Wollmer “couldn’t come up with any suggestions for big-ticket revenue raisers” was a blatant lie. 

Union haters will, of course, present Mulshine’s column as concrete “I-told-you-so” evidence that unions have no solutions to the pension crisis. No surprise there. Also unfortunate is that people who don’t necessarily harbor ill-will towards public employees or their unions will infer, from Mulshine’s column, that the state does not have the money–and cannot find it–to fulfill its pension obligations.

But most unfortunate is that a columnist at the state’s largest newspaper would pose a very specific question to NJEA’s Director of Communications and then deliberately misrepresent and omit most of the answer he very specific answer received.

What kind of reporting is that?

More largely, and certainly more troubling, Mulshine’s column is just one minuscule example of a nation-wide–no, global--effort to undermine unions and their members by perpetuating the myth that they complain without offering solutions and want unreasonable “entitlements” (because pensions aren’t deferred compensation, right?) at the expense of taxpayers (because union members aren’t taxpayers, right?).

And until the media abandons this kind of underhanded anti-union propaganda and calls sufficient attention to the real problem–the billions in taxpayer dollars that are being used to enrich corporations, hedge-fund managers, politicians, and political donors–hardworking public employees will continue to be vilified by people who mistake columns like Mulshine’s for unbiased reporting.

*This post was constructed based solely on information posted on the closed NJEA Facebook group, of which I’m a member. It was not solicited, approved, or endorsed by anyone at the New Jersey Education Association.



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Newark Residents Should Select Their Next Superintendent

We believe that the people of Newark should be able to democratically govern their public schools.

Fortunately, Mark Biedron, President of NJ’s State Board of Education, seems to agree. Mr. Biedron recently told the Star Ledger that “the people of Newark having local control over the school district…is a good thing.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Biedron will have an opportunity to act on this belief when the State Board votes on whether Chris Cerf should become Newark’s next Superintendent.

If the State Board approves Mr. Cerf, it will be continuing a 20 year history of disenfranchisement for Newark’s nearly 300,000 residents, who have had no say in this decision.

If the Board rejects Mr. Cerf and instead approves a candidate selected by Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education, it will be putting Mr. Biedron’s admirable philosophy into practice.

There is plenty of precedent for allowing Newark to select its own superintendent.

Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson are all state-controlled school districts. Yet Jersey City’s popularly-elected Board of Education selected its Superintendent, Marcia Lyles. Paterson’s Superintendent, Dr. Donnie Evans, was selected by a committee that included members of Paterson’s popularly-elected Board of Education, along with other community leaders. In contrast, Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education has had no voice in selecting Mr. Cerf, who was nominated for this position by Governor Christie.

Approving Mr. Cerf is also difficult to justify because Mr. Cerf lacks the qualifications necessary to run New Jersey’s largest school district. Unlike Jersey City’s and Paterson’s leaders, Mr. Cerf has no prior experience as a superintendent.

Nor is there a record of success in related public-education positions on which to base Mr. Cerf’s nomination. In fact, Mr. Cerf’s tenure as New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education was marked by numerous poor decisions regarding Newark, including:

  • Appointing and continuing to support Newark’s prior Superintendent, Cami Anderson, whose policies and behaviors generated broad-based rejection and rebellion from Newark residents;
  • Improperly giving in to a demand from Ms. Anderson “to allow her to retain full control over 28 low-performing schools, which resulted in New Jersey failing to comply with federal requirements; and
  • Forcibly maintaining State control of Newark’s schools by dramatically lowering the district’s scores on the State’s monitoring system (QSAC) from the scores that Mr. Cerf had given the district less than a year earlier.

The people of Newark deserve the right to select their next Superintendent. They also deserve an experienced public education leader with a proven record of success. Mr. Cerf’s candidacy fails on all these counts.

We encourage Mr. Biedron and the other State Board of Education members to vote no on Mr. Cerf’s nomination and to allow Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education to nominate the district’s next Superintendent.

Newark’s residents have been deprived of their right to democratically control their public schools for 20 years. It is long past time to correct this wrong!
Rosie Grant, Piscataway, NJ–Parent and nonprofit leader

Michelle Fine, Montclair, NJ–Parent and professor

Judy DeHaven, Red Bank, NJ–Parent and writer

Valerie Trujillo, Jersey City, NJ–Parent and public education advocate

Jacklyn Brown, Manalapan, NJ–Parent and educator

Julia Sass Rubin, Princeton, NJ–Parent and professor

Linda Reid, Paterson, NJ–Parent and nonprofit leader

Melissa Katz, South Brunswick, NJ–Future educator

Bobbie Theivakumaran, Metuchen, NJ–Parent and investment banker

Lisa Winter, Basking Ridge, NJ–Parent, technology manager and former Board of Education member

Marcella Simadiris, Montclair, NJ–Parent and educator

Michelle McFadden-DiNicola, Highland Park, NJ–Parent and public education advocate

Bill Michaelson, Lawrence Township, NJ–Parent and computer scientist

Marie Hughes Corfield, Flemington, NJ–Parent and educator

Rita McClellan, Cherry Hill, NJ–Parent and administrator

Sarah Blaine, Montclair, NJ–Parent, attorney, and blogger

Susan Cauldwell, Spring Lake, NJ–Parent and nonprofit leader

Heidi Maria Brown, Pitman, NJ–Parent and educator

Julie Borst, Allendale, NJ–Parent and special education advocate

Susan Berkey, Howell, NJ–Parent and educator

Darcie Cimarusti, Highland Park, NJ–Parent and Board of Education member

Amnet Ramos, North Plainfield, NJ–Parent and educator

Elana Halberstadt, Montclair, NJ–Parent and writer/artist

Ani McHugh, Delran, NJ–Parent and educator

Jill DeMaio, Monroe, NJ–Parent

Tamar Wyschogrod, Morristown, NJ–Parent and journalist

Lauren Freedman, Maplewood, NJ–Parent and public education advocate

Lisa Rodgers, South Brunswick, NJ–Parent and business owner

Laurie Orosz, Montclair, NJ–Parent and public education advocate

Michael Kaminski, Mount Laurel, NJ–Parent and educator

Ronen Kauffman, Union City, NJ–Parent and educator

Frankie Adao, Newark, NJ–Parent and social media specialist

Kathleen Nolan, Princeton, NJ–Parent, researcher and lecturer

Sue Altman, Camden, NJ–Educator

Jennifer Cohan, Princeton, NJ–Parent and publicist

Daniel Anderson, Bloomfield, NJ–Parent and Board of Education member

Debbie Baer, Robbinsville, NJ–Parent and educator

Dan Masi, Roxbury Township, NJ–Parent and engineer

Susan Schutt, Ridgewood, NJ–Assistant principal and public education advocate

Karin Szotak, Madison NJ–Parent and business owner

Tiombe Gibson, Deptford, NJ–Parent and educator

Lisa Marcus Levine, Princeton, NJ–Parent and architect

Kristen Carr Jandoli, Haddon, NJ–Parent and public education advocate

Jean Schutt McTavish, Ridgewood, NJ–Parent and high school principal

Virginia Manzari, West Windsor, NJ–Parent and businesswoman

Stephanie LeGrand, Haddonfield, NJ–Parent and public education advocate

Melanie McDermott, Highland Park, NJ–Parent and sustainability researcher

Nora Hyland, Asbury Park, NJ–Parent and professor

Beth O’Donnell-Fischer, Verona, NJ–Parent

Susie Welkovits, Highland Park, NJ–Parent and Borough Council President

Gregory M. Stankiewicz, Princeton, NJ–Parent and nonprofit leader

Margot Embree Fisher, Teaneck, NJ–Parent and former Board of Education member

Stephanie Petriello, Dumont, NJ–Parent, educator and business owner

Laura Begg, Bernards Township, NJ–Parent and public education advocate

Gary C. Frazier, Camden, NJ–Parent and community activist

Debbie Reyes, Florence Township, NJ–Parent

Christine McGoey, Montclair, NJ–Parent

Regan Kaiden, Collingswood, NJ–Parent and educator

Moneke Singleton-Ragsdale, Camden, NJ–Parent and administrator

Liz Mulholland, Westfield, NJ–Parent

Toby Sanders, Trenton, NJ–Parent, pastor and educator


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