By Briana Vannozzi
Gov. Chris Christie was greeted by demonstrators outside the Hope Hose Humane firehouse in Bordentown City this morning. Christie’s on his latest leg touting the Fairness Formula, a school funding reform plan he claims will increase aid to 75 percent of all state districts and distribute it equally — at $6,600 per child.
“Our numbers indicate 35 percent would see a decrease and a significant decrease. We also believe that children should be funded according to their needs. So $6,599 for a special needs student or an English language learner is not going to cut it,” said Susan Cauldwell, executive director of Save Our Schools NJ.
The protesters were made up largely from NJEA members, one of Christie’s biggest rivals. They contend urban districts with low income students will bear the brunt of cuts in his roughly $9 billion budget.
“He’s the governor of all of New Jersey and what he’s doing now is pitting New Jerseyans against one another,” said Healthy Schools Now Campaign Organizer Jerell Blakeley.
Inside though, the governor was hitting his stride, using a familiar comparison.
“You spend $19,851 per pupil. You’re above the state average by the way, Bordentown. The state average is about $17,700. So you’re about $2,000 over the state average. What do we spend in Asbury Park — $33,609 per pupil,” Christie said.
Comparing Bordentown’s 88.5 percent graduation rate to Asbury’s 66 percent.
“We have seen over and over again in this state, that what happens is people just wind up asking for more. For more,” Christie said.
According to the governor’s plan, Bordentown City, Township and Fieldsboro would all see property tax savings around $1,000 a household. Nearby Chesterfield would save almost $2,500.
But advocacy group Save Our Schools NJ crunched the numbers and found that 164 districts in the state would see steep cuts — 15 here in Burlington County ranging up to $14,000 a student.
Bordentown resident Catherine Roth’s mother taught in Irvington for 31 years. She says Christie’s budget made her retire early.
“Six years later my mother is working part-time at 73 and she’s making $6,000 less than she did her last year in 2010 and 27 percent of her income goes to property taxes for a house that has been shot by stray bullets three times in the last three years. So my question to you I guess is, do you care about that?” Roth asked.
“Sure I do, sure I do,” Christie replied. “This would help seniors a great deal.”
Yesterday Newark Schools Superintendent Chris Cerf — appointed by Christie — criticized the plan.
“And I don’t mind saying explicitly that a reduction in our budget of 60 percent would be cataclysmic,” Cerf said.
“But Superintendent Cerf and I had a conversation last night after he made his comments and we had a spirited discussion about my point of view on this and his point of view on this. We disagree,” Christie said.
Some of the governor’s critics outside the firehouse today questioned just how serious he is about the plan, given his own recognition that it’s unlikely for Democrats to coalesce behind it. Inside, though, the governor didn’t skip a beat, telling those inside you can either take it or stick with the status quo.