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Analysis: NJ Public Employees Pay High Percentage of Healthcare Costs

By Mark J. Magyar

Under 2011 law, employee healthcare contribution are based on ‘ability to pay’ with sliding scale ranging from 3 percent to 35 percent of premium

Three-and-a-half years ago, the state Pension and Health Benefits Study Commission appointed by Gov. Chris Christie would have had an easy time arguing that public employees should pay more toward their healthcare, as Christie has asserted.

At that time, the average state worker was paying just 3.6 percent of health premium costs, and some teachers, police, and local government employees were paying nothing at all, toward some of the most expensive healthcare policies in the country.

Today, however, while the cost of New Jersey public employee health insurance coverage remains the third-highest in the nation, most New Jersey public employees are paying more than the national average for state government workers toward their health insurance costs, an NJ Spotlight analysis shows.

In fact, the average New Jersey government employee is paying more for individual health insurance coverage than government workers in any other state and the 10th-highest average premium for family coverage in the country.

Further, state and local government workers are paying a much higher percentage of the cost of their individual health insurance policies than private-sector employees in New Jersey have been paying, and not much less than the percentage paid by the state’s private-sector workers for family coverage.


College boards need more professionalism, oversight

By Susanna Tardi

On Nov. 6, 2014, the National Commission on College and University Board Governance issued a report that was highly critical of higher education governing boards, finding they aren’t serious enough about oversight, “fail to add value to decision making,” are generally inattentive and out of touch, and have outdated policies and practices. The public’s erosion of faith in the value of higher education is testimony to the fact that boards have dropped the ball in dealing with the challenges facing higher education.

The problem in New Jersey is compounded by weak state oversight and a well-publicized lack of coordination among our public colleges and universities. Improvements are urgently needed, and the commission’s report makes well-reasoned recommendations to make decision-making and oversight more substantive and effective.

New Jersey policymakers, Gov. Christie, and Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks should carefully consider the recommendations and develop legislation to engage college and university boards in reforming higher education. From the experience of faculty and professional staff, several recommendations deserve special note.


Teachers Add Critical Voice to State’s Newly Named Testing Commission

By John Mooney

While skeptics worry Christie appointees will rubber-stamp state policy, two named to panel express optimism that dissident voices will be heard

When Gov. Chris Christie finally appointed his long-promised commission to study New Jersey’s school-testing system, the appointees included two teachers who are hardly big fans of where the state is heading.

While they’re not hard-core dissidents, Freehold Township teacher Tracie Yostpille and Camden County Vocational District’s Matt Stagliano certainly come from the camp that believes New Jersey may be moving too far, too fast.

Stagliano, an English teacher, questions how the testing fits students who don’t fit the typical mold. Yostpille, a social studies teacher, worries that testing-related narrowing of the curriculum will squeeze out subjects like hers.

“We’re not language arts or math,” Yostpille said in an interview yesterday. “We are not a tested subject, and are we a subject that matters anymore?”

The question now is how much their concerns – and the voices of others who have been critical of the state’s testing system — will influence the nine-member Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey, which Christie took more than three months to appoint and has little time to get started on its work.


NJIT blasts Kean U. architecture school plans; calls proposal duplicative, wasteful

By Tom Haydon | NJ Advance Media for

UNION — Kean University’s plans to open a school architecture now face opposition from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which claims the program would be a wasteful duplication and that Kean has failed to seek approvals for the new school.

In October, Kean University announced the formation of the Michael Graves School of Architecture, named for the acclaimed architect who has a Princeton firm and is architecture professor emeritus at Princeton University. The new program will offer a four-year bachelor of art degree in architecture, and a two-year master’s degree.

NJIT in Newark contends the two public schools, about 10 miles apart, serve the same populations, and the Newark institute’s architecture school already has the capacity to serve the region with a program chartered by the state in 1973. NJIT’s program accommodates up to 250 students in a five-year bachelor’s program.

“If you have the state involved in sponsored programs, they would have to have a geographical disparity or offer different programs. I think it would hard not to come to that conclusion,” said Urs Gauchat, NJIT Dean of the School of Architecture and Design.


James Castiglione, president of the Kean Federation Teachers, said faculty members also question the new program.

“The faculty’s primary concern is the always the quality of education. What effect will this program have on existing programs?” Castiglione said.


Union County College adjuncts petition school for ‘living wage’ as contract is negotiated

CRANFORD — Arguing that a reduction in their teaching hours would also cut down their ability to engage with students, adjunct professors at Union County College are pushing the school to preserve their workload.

Members of the Union County College chapter of the United Adjunct Faculty Federation of New Jersey say that the administration’s attempt to cap the number courses they can teach per semester will cause students’ education to suffer. The union argues that if part-time faculty members can’t earn living wages from teaching at the school, they’ll have to take on other jobs, giving them less time to work with students outside of class.

“Students get hurt by this,” said William Lipkin, co-president of the school’s union chapter and a history and political science instructor. “If they’re cutting back our hours, it means that we’re going to be on campus less, and that doesn’t lead to increased student retention or success or graduation rates.”

Adjunc faculty members are now able to teach four standard courses per semester, but school officials are looking to cut that down to three as part of the negotiation of a new contract, Lipkin said.

The drop in courseload would translate to a pay cut for adjuncts, who are paid per credit hour and do not earn benefits.

Union members delivered a petition with 321 signatures this week to the college’s Board of Trustees, calling the proposed pay cut unnecessary and a threat to their livelihoods.


In Newark, teacher tenure ruling could impact other cases

By Naomi Nix, NJ Advance Media for

NEWARK — A state-appointed arbitrator ordered Newark Public Schools last month to rehire a teacher the district tried to fire under New Jersey’s revised tenure legislation.

Stephen Bluth ruled that the district could not revoke Sandra Cheatham’s tenure protections on the basis of a negative teacher evaluation from the 2012-2013 school year because TeachNJ— the state’s revised teacher tenure law — was not in effect at the start of the school year.


“The arbitrator was very clear,” said John Abeigon, director of operations of the Newark Teachers Union. “You can’t just make up the rules as you go along.”

Under the ruling, Newark Public Schools will pay any back pay she missed as a result of the tenure charge. The school district said in a statement it was currently working with Cheatham to obtain a “mutually agreed upon outcome.”

But the Cheatham ruling could impact dozens of other teachers in a similar predicament, say some experts.


NJ State AAUP Conference Nov. 25 in New Brunswick

New Jersey State Conference of the American Association of University Professors Annual Conference

The State of Higher Education in New Jersey Today — A Legislative Perspective: What Has Been Accomplished and What Needs to Be Done

When: Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 pm.

Location: Scholarly Communication Lecture Hall, Alexander Library, 169 College Ave, New Brunswick, NJ 08901

Free event; free parking; limited seating. RSVP Required to Dan O’Connor

9:30 Coffee & Registration

10:00 Welcome, Dan O’Connor, President NJAAUP

Dr. Peter Guzzo, Legislative Liaison to NJAAUP “Key Legislation on Higher Education in NJ: Recently Passed and Currently Being Considered.”

Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, Member, Assembly Higher Education Committee
Dr. Joe Doria, Vice-President, NJAAUP, Dean at St. Peter’s University and Rutgers Adjunct Professor.
Professor Susanna Tardi, AFTNJ Executive Vice-President; CNJSCL Vice-President; President AFT at William Paterson University
Professor Tim Haresign, Richard Stockton College of NJ, College Council-AFT President, AFTNJ Vice President

NJ Senate Keynote Speaker:
Senator Steve Sweeney, Senate President

Audience Questions and Discussion

NJAAUP Member Institutions
Bloomfield College; Centenary College; Drew University; Felician College; Georgian Court University; Monmouth University; New Jersey Institute of Technology; Princeton Theological Seminary; Rider University; Rutgers University; Saint Peter’s University; Seton Hall University; Union County College

NJAAUP acknowledges the participation of The Council of New Jersey State College Locals, AFT, and the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey in presenting this conference program.

Superintendent could face legislative subpoena on ‘One Newark’

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for

NEWARK — State Sen. Ronald Rice banged the drum on today for a bill he has introduced that would give legislators the power to subpoena the controversial superintendent of public schools in Newark.

The bill, which was introduced last month and referred to the Senate Education Committee. would designate the Joint Committee on the Public Schools as a special panel and empower it to investigate the operation of the Newark School District and, in particular, its superintendent, Cami Anderson.

Under the legislation, Rice (D-Essex) said at a news conference, the committee could use its subpoena power to get Anderson to answer legislators’ questions about her plan to overhaul the district, called “One Newark,” which was implemented this year.

According to Rice, Anderson has rejected several requests to appear before the joint committee, often citing scheduling conflicts.

“There (have) been tremendous problems,” he said, and added that the district has “failed to provide the public with answers.”

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), cochairwoman of the joint committee, said the lawmakers had no choice but to issue a subpoena.

“Since she has chosen not to be responsive, she must be compelled,” Jasey said.
The Newark school district declined to comment on Rice’s effort.


On Their Watch

By Ry Rivard

Inattentive college and university governing boards are putting American higher education at risk, according to a new set of guidelines for trustees issued today by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

A special 26-member commission, led by former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, concluded that changing conditions — including financial constraints and public perceptions – endanger the durability of the nation’s higher education system. That system, the commission concluded, is based on “the reputations of a relative handful of highly ranked U.S. universities, not the overall performance of the sector.”

The commission said generous government funding and lifelong careers for faculty and staff are rapidly becoming things of the past, yet boards function as they have for decades and even then disagree with or misunderstand what they ought to be doing.

In a series of recommendations, the commission called for board members to restore public faith in higher education by improving value for students; to do less short-term thinking and more long-term planning; to rethink the power-sharing agreements boards have with faculty; and to hold themselves accountable for bad board behavior, including self-dealing and conflicts of interest.

The report also calls on boards to do more to oversee affiliated institutions, including university foundations, public-private partnerships, research companies and teaching hospitals.


In One Election Cycle, Congress Loses a Number of Higher-Ed Stalwarts

By Kelly Field

With the defeat on Tuesday of two members of Congress’s education committees, and the looming retirement and departure of several other education stalwarts, Congress is losing a lot of expertise on higher-education policy, and students and colleges are losing some of their strongest advocates. Here’s a look at who will be leaving, and who will be trying to fill their shoes.
Retiring or Not Running for Re-Election
In the House:

George Miller (Democrat, California): The top Democrat on the House education committee and its former chair, Mr. Miller has been a longtime champion of working-class and poor students. Among his recent successes are securing mandatory funds for Pell Grants, halving interest rates on student loans, creating and expanding income-based repayment options, and providing direct aid to community colleges and minority-serving institutions.

Rush D. Holt (Democrat, New Jersey): When Mr. Holt leaves office, in January, Congress will be down to one physicist—Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat—and research universities will be out a chief advocate. During his 15 years in Congress, Mr. Holt, a former college professor and lab director, helped secure billions of dollars in federal funding for science and technology research, and created the Teach grant program for aspiring mathematics, science, and foreign-language teachers.


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