US

In NJ school cut debate, insults overshadow issues

HADDONFIELD, N.J. (AP) — They’re the kind of obscenity-laced schoolyard taunts that could get a student suspended.

But the target of this tirade is New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie — and the perpetrators are the state’s teachers, irate over his calls for salary freezes and funding cuts for schools.

In Facebook messages visible to the world — not to mention their students — the teachers have called Christie fat, compared him to a genocidal dictator and wished he was dead. The postings are often riddled with bad grammar and misspellings.

“Never trust a fat f…,” read one profane post on the Facebook page, “New Jersey Teachers United Against Governor Chris Christie’s Pay Freeze,” which has some 69,000 fans, many of them teachers.

“How do you spell A– hole? C-H-R-I-S C-H-R-I-S-T-I-E,” read another.

The rhetoric has become ever more heated as residents of most of the state’s school districts get ready to vote Tuesday on property tax levies that support district budgets. And while many of the postings are emotional, most aren’t personal attacks.

Christie, a first-year Republican governor who inherited a state in dire financial straits, wants voters to reject the proposals in districts where educators won’t agree to salary freezes for the coming school year.

The acrimony intensified last month when Christie proposed cutting state and federal aid to districts by 11 percent, calling it a way to share sacrifice as the state tries to rein in spending.

That’s when the Facebook attacks really took off.

One educator, a librarian with a Master’s degree, described the cuts as “rediculous.”

Another pointed out that Christie’s late mother was a member of the teachers union: “It’s not right to bite the hand that feeds you. Oh I forgot it’s Chirs Christie, He’s so large I bet he’d bite anything that’s put in front of his face!”

“Remember Pol Pot, dictator of Cambodia?” warned another. “He reigned in terror, his target was teachers and intellectuals. They were either killed or put into forced labor… King Kris Kristy is headed in this direction.”

Christie’s supporters have responded with a Facebook page of their own. “Teachers need to sit down and shut up. They live in a dream world where they work 180 days a year,” it asserted. “Way overpaid to start with, they could never make it working in the real world.”

Even in these tough economic times, teachers in most New Jersey districts have continued to get annual negotiated raises — often around 4 percent — and don’t have to help pay for their health insurance.

So Christie has offered more money to districts that can get teachers unions to revise their contracts and freeze salaries for the upcoming school year — and agree to start paying 1.5 percent of their salaries toward their health insurance.

So far, teachers in only 20 of the state’s 590 school districts have agreed to any concessions.

In 2006, the last year for which data was available, New Jersey teachers made an average of $58,000. The salary, in one of the highest cost-of-living states, was fourth in the nation.

Earlier this month, an opinion column in the Star-Ledger of Newark, the state’s largest newspaper, took teachers to task for their attacks on the governor.

“Here are words to live by from a guy teaching you critical life tools,” it said of one expletive-ridden post. “Write them down. There might be a quiz.”

Some have cooled the rhetoric and even apologized.

After a New Jersey teacher’s union wished Christie dead — like “my favorite singer, Michael Jackson” — the group’s president, Joe Coppola of the Bergen County Education Association, called it a bad attempt at humor and apologized.

Christie’s people weren’t impressed. “The union is, has been, and probably always will be a bully,” the governor’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said in an interview last week.

It’s Christie who’s the real bully, asserted Marlene Brubaker, a Camden County Technical School science teacher who wrote the post comparing the governor to the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot.

“I’m not saying this guy is killing us physically,” she said. “I would say he’s trying to kill us spiritually,” by disrespecting teachers and spreading the myth that they’re overpaid.

Her salary, which public records show is a bit more than $50,000 a year, isn’t enough to make ends meet, she added, so she also has to tutor and work as a home health aide.

The debate appears to be taking a slightly more civil course lately, especially after the founder of the anti-Christie page was shut out from posting on the site for about a week because of all the hateful comments.

“I have deleted and will continue to delete commets comparing Governor Christie to genocidal maniacs,” read a recent post, complete with a typo. “He is not a genocidal maniac. He is a crappy governor.”