As a former school board member, I applaud Middletown Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger's courageous stand demanding that the teachers' union, the MTEA, agree to a wage freeze during these extremely trying economic times. I also commend the mayor for setting up a website capability for residents to share their ideas online with the township committee members. That was a brilliant idea to avoid political grandstanding by those with an ax to grind on any side while allowing teachers, parents and taxpayers alike a voice without fear of retribution.
It’s important for the MTEA leadership to keep in mind that senior citizens have lost a Social Security cost of living adjustment this year; as have retired public employees. These seniors are the ones who pay a large property tax burden (with 64% of the property tax going to the public school system). There is no question that education is labor intensive, which drives up the per pupil cost. However, we can no longer afford to pay the current costs associated with education, as well as public employment in general.
If union leaders refuse to allow their union members to vote on such issues as a pay freeze under current economic conditions, perhaps it's time for the union members to take back control of their union and elect leaders who will honestly represent ALL teachers and try to work with others to adjust to this new economic reality. It is extremely unfortunate that the NJEA has declared "war" (their words, not mine) on attempts to prevent the state from sliding into bankruptcy. It is in everyone's interest, especially public employees with pensions and health benefits, to work together to achieve economic stability and security. Failure would be an unmitigated disaster that no one can afford.
Thomas F. Stokes
former Middletown Township Board of Education member and president