Acting NJ Ed Commissioner Tells Teachers: 'We're Supportive of Unions... We're Not Blaming Teachers'

November 11, 2011

Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said Friday he came to the New Jersey Education Association convention in search of allies in advancing policies that will help students learn.

“We are eager for allies in this process,” he said before talking to teachers in Atlantic City. “We are not against unions as we are sometimes portrayed.”

 Indeed, he noted that the Christie administration had not sought legislation to strictly curb collective bargaining rights, as Republican governors have done in some states, such as Ohio.

“We’re supportive of unions,” he said. “We’re not blaming teachers.”

The speech marks his first address at the NJEA convention since getting tapped for his job last December.

Cerf’s visit marks a departure from last year when Acting Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks snubbed the union’s invitation, saying it was too resistant to change. At that time, Governor Christie and the union leaders were clashing bitterly and often over Christie’s call for teachers to take wage freezes and his rejection of an application for a federal Race to the Top grant that had been crafted with union support.

Cerf’s rapport with union leaders has been more cordial, and he regularly makes a point of praising talented teachers when talking about the need to dismiss poor performers. His appearance comes as the Christie administration continues its push to weaken tenure and seniority protections, overhaul teacher evaluations and expand charter schools.

The union has balked at most of those plans and issued its own counterproposals. Now that elections are over, the debate over changing tenure is expected to heat up in the coming lame duck session of the Legislature.