Faculty Union Questions Lt. Gov. About Pensions, Education Funding Before She Speaks at Commencement

The Raritan Valley Community College Faculty Federation sent an open letter Wednesday to Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, RVCC’s Commencement Speaker this Saturday, questioning the funding of public education and pensions.

Faculty members asked the union’s executive council last week to “use this opportunity to voice our concerns over the underfunding of public education and the undermining of public employees by the Christie administration,” Maria M. DeFilippis, Esq., president of the RVCC Faculty Federation, wrote in an email to faculty.

The union executive council is considering wearing stickers at commencement that say “Support Public Education & Public Employees,” and they are also considering asking graduates to do the same. The council is waiting for a consensus among faculty before doing so.

Guadagno replied to a tweet from AFTNJ (American Federation of Teachers New Jersey) Wednesday, “I was a teacher at Rutgers law, & in the Union so I look forward to the discussion though I don't think commencement is the place.”

Bick Treut, Vice President of the RVCC Faculty Federation, said the letter is not meant to undermine the achievements of graduates. He expects the questions in the letter to be answered on a separate occasion.

New Jersey has an $83 billion unfunded pension system—the worst record of pension funding by a state in the country, according to a study by the National Association of State’s Retirement Administrators.

The Raritan Valley Community College Faculty Federation is a branch of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). It represents over 200 full-time and adjunct faculty members at RVCC.

Open Letter to Lt. Governor Guadagno on Public Higher Education 

May 13, 2015

Dear Lieutenant Governor Guadagno:

We look forward to your presence at our commencement ceremony this weekend, and your participation in celebrating the many achievements of our graduates. And as we suggested when Governor Christie visited our campus two years ago, we ask you to see this as an opportunity for dialogue around the issues confronting higher education and the status of public employees. To initiate this dialogue, we pose the following questions in hopes that you will address same in your commencement remarks, or at some other point in your visit to our campus.

First, why does your administration continue to underfund public education in New Jersey?  And why do you continue to transfer more and more of the funding burden onto the backs of our students?  Since taking office, your administration has cut funding to higher education by nearly twelve percent.  Diminishing state resources has led to higher student tuition and fees.  At Raritan Valley Community College, although we appreciate that the state continues to fund approximately 11 percent of our budget, this amount represents far less than the state’s responsibility under the original funding formula for New Jersey community colleges. That formula proposed that the state and the counties each pay one-third, leaving only the remaining third to be funded by our students.  With the state continuing to refuse to carry its share of the burden, our students, whose tuition payments  now account for more than 60% of our college’s costs, are left paying the price for this lack of commitment to public higher education in our state.

Second, when will your administration honor the commitment it made to public employees who rely upon the state pension system?   At Raritan Valley Community College, like other institutions of higher education throughout the state, some of us are members of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS).  This system continues to be dangerously under-funded due to nearly two decades of borrowing from the state pension fund by New Jersey leaders.  To correct this funding imbalance, your administration promised to make full payments to our pension system if we agreed to make higher contributions and accept an adjustment of benefits, which we did.  But now you refuse to fully fund the pension system which we have paid for and worked for.  In fact, just this year you have continued the pattern of balancing the budget by again cutting payments to our pensions.

And finally, how can we achieve an economy that benefits all New Jersey residents, if we shortchange our public institutions, like Raritan Valley Community College, and the public employees who make these institutions what they are?  As the top Christie Administration official overseeing the promotion of economic vitality and job growth, you might be interested in the findings of a 2013 study of Raritan Valley Community College which reported that for every dollar of public support our institution received, taxpayers saw a return of $4.30 in the form of higher tax receipts and avoided costs.  Increased public funding for institutions like ours is not only a good investment, but it helps to sustain public institutions and public employees, contributing to the public good, which we believe are all essential if we want New Jersey to be a state that works for all its hardworking residents.

Again, we welcome you to Raritan Valley Community College and we welcome your response to our pressing concerns.

In support of the value of Public Education,

Raritan Valley Community College Faculty Federation

AFT Local #2375

Featured image caption:

Acting Governor, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno speaks at the New Jersey League of Municipalities Annual Convention in Atlantic City, N.J. on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen). Photo from state.nj.us.

Christian Rosario
Editor-In-Chief (2013-2015) / The Record
Christian Rosario is the 2013-2015 Editor-In-Chief, website administrator and founder of RVCCTheRecord.com. He majors in Communication Studies at Raritan Valley Community College. He welcomes students of all majors to contribute their talent to The Record.