SPEAKER OLIVER: A LOST OPPORTUNITY FOR THE GOVERNOR

Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic) had the following published Tuesday in The Star-Ledger:

The Christie administration’s decision to skip this year’s New Jersey Education Association convention is an example of what’s wrong with government these days. Too often we’ve seen confrontation take precedence over consensus, and it’s time for that to end. It’s no secret that Gov. Christie and the NJEA don’t get along. Yet the governor has said consistently that his problem isn’t with teachers, but with the NJEA leadership. This was a great opportunity for the administration to speak directly with those teachers, but since confrontation was the apparent priority, that golden opportunity was lost. Political gamesmanship like this does nothing to improve the education of our children. The governor has spent a lot of time this year speaking to mostly friendly audiences across the nation and the state. But it’s important for leaders to also tread into territory that may prove more tense. Only by speaking with those who disagree with you can consensus be built.
I myself have done just that this year, speaking for instance with mayors who have been critical. It was a dialogue that while at times tough also helped lead to additional property tax reform bills. It was beneficial to everyone involved.
The acting education commissioner’s decision sends a disconcerting message about the priorities of this administration. This sort of adversarial tone will only continue to hurt New Jersey’s schools and those who work hard to support them.
This opportunity has come and gone, but I urge both sides to continue working to find a way to make up for it. Perhaps another meeting can be scheduled, or if easier and more practical, a teleconference held so teachers from across the state and the administration can speak directly with each other to try to accomplish the shared goal of improving education.