Party politics shouldn't be on school property

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:27

    Party politics has its place and plays an important role in American democracy. But there are places you don’t want party politics to be. None of us would like to see an emergency dispatcher checking to see which party we belonged to - before sending the police, firefighters, or an ambulance. As a result of reforms won as long as a century ago, there is a consensus in America that party politics is best left out of places like police stations and classrooms. Those reforms and that consensus have been under attack of late. It’s happening across New Jersey. For example, in Elizabeth, members of the state teachers’ union were caught soliciting political contributions on school property for a political candidate who was challenging a Democrat legislator. Here in Sussex County, it has emerged that school property - funded and maintained by all our property taxes - was being used for a get-out-the-vote operation on behalf of political candidates. This is wrong, plain and simple. New Jersey taxpayers pay some of the highest property taxes in America to fund education. We want that money to go towards educating our children - period. We do not want to see tax money diverted to underwrite political operations of any kind, by any party. It’s simply unfair to taxpayers. If a school district has enough spare money around to play politics, then maybe they should consider cutting property taxes and sending that money back to the folks who are paying the bill. Some have tried to argue that this issue isn’t important enough to address, but what is more important than how our property tax dollars are being spent? High property taxes are one of the factors that inhibit business and job growth in New Jersey. Besides which, failing to address this would be tantamount to sanctioning the use of government facilities for party campaign purposes. Unless something is done, it will happen again and again so that, in the not-too-distant future, it will become commonplace. Those of us who have worked to enact reforms - like the ban that prevents elected officials from simultaneously collecting both a pension and a salary - are interested in making government better, cleaner, more honest and less political. We don’t want to see the politicization of education and other services that people depend on. We can’t see how a return to the bad-old-days would be good for education or for taxpayers who pay the bill. Others have argued that the rules concerning political activity on taxpayer-funded school property are unclear. They search for loopholes in the law to try to spin their argument. This leads us to ask the question: Do these people really need a rule to tell them right from wrong? Some of them must. Not long ago, some of those making this argument looked for a loophole to get around the cap on salaries of school administrators. A cap would save property taxpayers nearly $10 million every year. You may recall that earlier this year, they found a way to circumvent the salary cap - set at $175,000 a year (plus full benefits and pension) - in order to get a salary increase of $60,000 higher or more. That’s your tax money they’re playing with. To make matters worse, they found a way to lock in this salary grab for five years. That’s $300,000 taken directly from educational resources. It’s money that taxpayers shouldn’t be paying. Trying to find a loophole to justify using taxpayer facilities for political campaign purposes is as self-serving as the loophole they used to get around the salary cap. We believe it is important to keep the focus of education tax dollars where it belongs: On educating our children. In trying to do so we are faced with an unrepentant adversary who seeks to politicize those tax dollars for party political purposes. This will remain a concern until those individuals, organizations, and enablers who perpetrate this misfeasance (as well as those benefitting from it) accept that it is improper and undertake that it will not happen again. Steve Oroho, Senator Alison Littell McHose, Assemblywoman Gary Chiusano, Assemblyman Sparta