Ocean City school unions skeptical of Christie’s education proposal

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OCEAN CITY — Local school union heads said they were not pleased with Gov. Chris Christie new plan that would dramatically change the school day and school year, as announced in his State of the State address.

“It’s hard for us in New Jersey to look at this because we know that the governor has attacked public education. In my opinion, it is another shot at the NJEA because the longer day and longer school year affects the teachers,” said Tom Campo, assistant principal at Ocean City High School and president of the Ocean City Administrators Association.

Christie said in his speech Tuesday, Jan. 14 that the state’s school calendar, which requires a 180 day school calendar – in the middle of the national range of 175-182 days, according to a 2011 report from the Education Commission of the States – is “antiquated, both educationally and culturally.”

“Life in 2014 demands something more for our students. It is time to lengthen both the school day and school year in New Jersey,” Christie said.

Campo said longer days and a longer school year could be problematic for some union members.

“From an association standpoint, the position the unions are going to take is that we need to be compensated,” he said. “In any job, if they tell you that you have to work longer and more, you are going to get paid more.

“For me, I would want to be compensated,” he said.

Despite offering little detail, including how much longer he would seek to keep students in the classroom and the cost of doing so, Christie’s proposal to extend the school day and calendar was promoted by his administration before his speech was delivered and made headlines in state and national media.

Campo said the teachers and support staff may be less happy with the proposal.

“I think that this is going to be a bigger deal for the teachers. The kids stay until about 3, I’m still here. As a teacher, if I am contracted to work from 7:45 to 2:50 and you tell me I have to stay until 3:15, the teacher is going to say, ‘Compensate me,’” he said.

As an administrator, Campo said he does not have set hours. He said his day generally begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m., unless he has an event in the evening or on a Saturday.

“We administrators work a longer day and year round, too,” he said. “We are in a different position. We do not have defined work hours in our contract; the teachers do.”

Alice Wolf, president of the Ocean City Education Association, said her members welcome any opportunity to discuss the benefits and challenges of implementing an extended school day and school year.

She said the welfare and safety of the students is “first and foremost in any discussion.

“This discussion should include the Ocean City community, as well,” she said.  

Wolf said the circumstances created by longer school day and school year would be unique to a resort community.

“How that would be handled should be considered,” she said. “What impact would it have on Ocean City tourism?” 

The discussion would include the resources needed to lengthen the school day and school year, the community’s willingness and ability to expand funding, the parents’ commitment to an extended school day and school year, as it may affect school sports programs, remediation and enrichment programs, summer camps and programs as well as family activities. 

The impact of expanding the school day and school year on the school facilities, Wolf said, should also be taken into consideration.

The New Jersey Education Association said it also would support discussion on the idea, while stressing that the talks would need to come a way to pay for the extra time. The proposal would need to be negotiated locally.

Kathy Sykes, administrative assistant to high school Principal Matt Jamison and president of the Ocean City Support Staff Association, said her members already work a longer school day and work year round.

“The support staff extended our summer hours, because (Superintendent) Dr. (Kathleen) Taylor wanted more availability to the public,” she said. “So we work extra hours anyway. We are always available to the students anyway. We start at 7:30 and we are here until 4.”

Sykes questioned how extended hours and a longer school year would be funded and how existing contracts, with set hours and school calendar would be affected.

“There would be some issues,” she said.

Sykes said many of the students are involved in athletic teams and other extra-curricular activities that meet after school. Teachers, who are also coaches, could be affected, too, she said.

“We are here, we are working before and after school and in the summer and we are willing to do what’s best for the kids,” she said. “We will be here to do whatever is necessary for the students to achieve their goals.”

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