Phil Murphy supports hearings on 'unacceptable' NJEA videos

May 7, 2018

Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday he supports the state Senate's move to hold hearings to investigate hidden-camera videos appearing to show local leaders of New Jersey's top teachers union discussing protecting teachers accused of abusing students.

Murphy's comments came shortly after state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, announced the hearings, which have not yet been scheduled. 

"I don't blame him," Murphy, a fellow Democrat, said at an unrelated news event in Trenton. 

The videos are by Project Veritas, a controversial conservative nonprofit run by New Jersey native and Rutgers University graduate James O'Keefe.

The group has been heavily criticized for going undercover to record videos of liberal organizations and individuals and then editing them extensively. 

Murphy said he has not yet seen the videos of presidents of local teachers unions in Hamilton (Mercer County) and Union City -- which are branches of the New Jersey Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state.

But Murphy -- who was endorsed by the NJEA in last year's election -- said he read what the leaders said in the clips. 

"On the one hand, this guy's very famous for selective editing," Murphy said of O'Keefe. "I'd like to see the whole tape."

"On the other hand," the governor added, "if it's true, it's completely unforgivable and unacceptable, what was said."

N.J. Senate to hold hearings on 'offensive' NJEA videos

Hamilton union president David Perry and Union City president Kathleen Valencia -- who have both been suspended -- are shown discussing how their unions hypothetically would help teachers who physically abused or threatened students. 

Valencia mentions how how a teacher who had sex with a teenage girl will not be fired because no charged were filed. 

NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said in a statement Monday that the union "agrees with parents, education advocates and legislators that the safety and well being of students is the most important responsibility of every adult working in New Jersey's public schools."

The NJEA has announced it will conduct a review of how local officials handle suspected abuse of children. 

"Based on that review, NJEA will undertake appropriate training to ensure that takes place in every local and in every instance," Baker said.

"NJEA welcomes the opportunity to discuss these important issues further with legislators in order to ensure that all public education advocates are working together to ensure the safety and wellbeing of New Jersey's students," he added.

The NJEA also criticized Project Veritas as "a political organization with a long history of releasing deceptively edited videos that later prove to have been dishonest and misleading."

Sweeney dismissed that. 

"Those words were real, those actions were real, and they need to be dealt with," he told NJ Advance Media on Monday. "And the NJEA doing their own independent investigation is the fox watching the henhouse."

Sweeney and the NJEA have long clashed. The union spent millions to try to unseat him in last year's election. The race cost $18.7 million, making it the most expensive legislative campaign in American history.

Murphy campaigned for Sweeney, but he declined to take a side in the dispute. That, insiders say, is part of the reason Murphy and Sweeney -- the top two elected officials in New Jersey -- have had a rocky relationship so far. 

Inquirer Editorial: No time for politics

April 18, 2011

After months of tough talk about reform, Gov. Christie has finally delivered his proposal to drastically change New Jersey’s education system.

There are good ideas in the package of seven bills that Christie sent to the Legislature last week that would raise the bar on teacher performance. He wants to shake up the teaching establishment by changing how teachers are paid, evaluated, and fired.

If the bills are approved, teachers will no longer wear tenure like a badge of honor after only three years on the job. Instead, they would undergo periodic evaluations and it would be easier to fire those who fail to pass muster. A similar measure has been proposed in Pennsylvania. That’s good, too. Tenure has made it difficult and costly for districts across the nation to remove bad teachers. Changes in how it is awarded are needed.

Whether Christie can sell his package remains to be seen. It does have some flaws that must be addressed, including a provision that would eliminate extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees. Teachers should be compensated in some way for the cost of their advanced education.

Christie faces a formidable adversary in the politically connected New Jersey Education Association. Unfortunately, he has missed few opportunities since taking office to antagonize the union. Just last week, he called it “a moneyed special interest that bullies and thugs its way” to get what it wants.

Tough talk won’t get his bills passed. Nor is that in the best interest of children. It’s time for the governor to tone down the rhetoric and work with the NJEA.

Democrats, who control both legislative houses, say that they have their own reform agenda. Excellent. Now they should work with Christie to find common ground.

His plan largely falls in line with reforms backed by President Obama to improve failing schools by drastically changing the status quo. Both he and Obama want to hold educators more accountable for student achievement.

Christie’s proposal would evaluate teachers based on performance and consider factors such as test scores and classroom observations by administrators. Those are reasonable benchmarks to determine effectiveness.

Seniority would be eliminated and districts would have more discretion to consider layoffs during a budget crisis. Teachers could earn merit pay for working with at-risk children, an incentive to encourage the best teachers to work with the neediest students. Teachers with certificates in subjects with a shortage of instructors could also get extra pay.

Christie and others are right when they say that just giving struggling schools additional funding is not the answer. But that doesn’t mean New Jersey can shirk its responsibility to provide adequate resources.

New Jersey has 200 schools designated as failing to educate more than 100,000 students daily. For their sake, Christie and the Legislature must reach agreement.