Christie bashes 'activist' judges, then runs to them in school fight | Editorial

on September 19, 2016

Gov. Chris Christie just announced he is taking his school fight to the state Supreme Court, where he's asking for several things that are reasonable, although the thrust of his lawsuit is not. Don't be fooled.  

 
His office is pitching this solely as an effort to give the governor authority to change the law so that districts aren't required to consider seniority above effectiveness during times of teacher layoffs, and can alter work rules in contracts that restrict teacher hours and duties.
 
These are sensible policy goals, but to ask the Supreme Court to strike down union contracts and reverse a Legislative policy decision would be an extraordinarily aggressive use of the courts. No state ruling has gone that far.

The governor is right on principle: Schools should be allowed to hang on to their best teachers, and changing work rules can yield good results. Charter schools have instituted longer days, for instance, and it's been a successful strategy.
 
It is a shame such reforms have failed in the Legislature, thanks to union special interests. But here's the problem with Christie taking this to court: His intentions are highly suspect. His lawsuit, as written, looks primarily like an effort to give him a leg up in the brewing battle over funding.
 
Why? Because it also attempts to get the state's highest court to set aside the school funding formula passed at the end of the Corzine administration, so Christie can wipe the slate clean for his own plan.
 
That 2008 formula, while far from perfect, gave more money to districts to cover the costs of educating their higher risk students. Christie's plan would not.

He wants to give every district the same amount of per-student funding, ignoring both the district's ability to cover its own costs, and the number of kids who are poor or don't speak English. He would gut funding in urban districts, often by more than half, in exchange for property tax relief in the suburbs.
 
For good reason, this reverse Robin Hood scheme has gotten nowhere in the Legislature, where Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) is moving his own sensible proposal to create a commission to study school funding.
 
So Christie's now trying to push his view in the state's highest court. No court has ever given the governor the power to overrule union contracts or change seniority rules, which is seen as the proper realm of the Legislature. So this lawsuit is mostly an attempt to clear the way legally for Christie to make his funding argument.
 
He's trying to throw out the old formula so he can tell Democrats to start with his as the basis for negotiations. The center of gravity would be up for grabs, and he might get them to meet him halfway on his radical plan.
 
The hypocrisy here is stunning. The very same governor who bristles that guys "in black robes" should butt out of politics is now asking these judges to overrule a policy change made by the Legislature.
 
Please. Remember what Christie said when he was asked, early on, how he would pick a Supreme Court justice? He vowed to remake the court based on one simple principle: "If you (want to) legislate, (then) run for the Legislature, don't put on a black robe and go to the Supreme Court."
 
Now Christie's the one putting on a black robe and going to the Supreme Court to push his personal politics. Fancy that.

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