New Jersey


500+ Mile Commute To Work – Part II

The last time I did one of these, the commute was 576 miles from Boston – this time it was only 500 miles from New Jersey. I’m still not sure if I like these better than coming in the night before but maybe I should ask my family who are up at 4:30 to drop me off at the airport.

I woke up this morning at about 4am and was on the road to the airport at about 4:45. By the time I got to the airport at 5:15, I was fully expecting to be through check-in and security within 5 minutes like the last time I visited Jersey. What caught me off guard was that the Porter employees hadn’t even set up their counters yet. So there were a few of us just standing at the entrance to the airport waiting for them to set up shop before we could proceed. That killed a good 10-15 minutes just watching them at their snail pace. Following that, there was no hassle at the check-in counter except that they printed the wrong gate on every passenger’s boarding pass and sent people going around in circles for a gate that didn’t exist. The security check was probably the nicest experience outside of the people at Logan even though it got a bit redundant. I am assuming the guard thought it was my first flight because he asked me take out my laptop, then take off my jacket, then my belt, then empty my pockets and then my shoes even though I am well familiar with the process by now.

The boarding which was scheduled for 6:25, started right on time even though I have no idea how long we waited in the plane because the flight landed nearly 45 minutes late. I remember falling asleep a little before takeoff, being woken up by the turbulence immediately after taking flight and again at breakfast. My usual routine on flights is get on board, fall asleep and wake up when we land. The flight crew was great as expected for Porter Airlines, where they came back to offer me breakfast even though I was sleeping through their first pass around. It wasn’t the greatest culinary experience of all time but a very decent offering of a blueberry muffin with fresh fruits and a cup of orange juice to start your workday.

P.S. Anyone interested in skydiving in the summer? Check out a pretty good deal from Groupon.


My Trip Home (12/24 – 12/28)

A blizzard wasn’t exactly what I was looking forward to when I went home this past weekend but it sure made things interesting.

The drive down there Friday afternoon was really good since I guess not too many people drive down to the United States on Christmas Eve. The border, which didn’t have too many cars, ended up costing me over an hour because I was classified under “Document Control” which required further inquiry on their end. It turns out that since I am no longer actively residing in the US, I will need to apply for USCIS – I-131, Application for Travel Document or otherwise risk losing my permanent resident status. A slightly confusing point was the agent telling me I need to apply for any travel over 6 months (which will be in January for me) but the application instructions say the permit is required once you have elapsed over 1 year. I figure I should get that cleared up as soon as possible since I am traveling to Boston in February.

It was good to see our new house fully furnished for the first time and I did sleep in my bedroom for the first time as well. The huge driveway, which is quite useful for the tons of relatives that come to visit, is also a very big pain to clean storms that dump 18” of snow on you. My mom had prepared lots of good food which obviously included Kofta (of course) but we ended up eating out most of the days – Popeyes, Chicken Guy, Kabab Paradise and Sun Tavern. Let it be known for the record however, I did not leave New Jersey without eating Kofta at least twice – because that would have been unacceptable on my part.

I was hoping to see a lot more friends from high school on Monday but the blizzard took care of that. However, the day wasn’t a complete waste as roads cleared up a little so I saw a couple of friends from Milltown before wheeling and dealing decisions took place to relocate the 222 Secret Santa Tres over to Justin’s house so Jolly White Giant could also grace us with his presence because 30” of snow is too much for him to drive in. I will also neither deny nor confirm the fact that a vast majority of that time was spent playing/yelling/screaming at Mario Kart.

Work is pretty light again this week as we all anticipate/dread the YE stuff to start next week. One coworker next to me answered her phone this morning by saying, “Alien Headquarters, Guadalajara. How can I help you?” – all in joking of course, we don’t really host reception services for the Alien HQ… as far as I know.


It’s Almost Time For Eskimos And Igloos

Day #128:

I can’t believe it has been over a month since I last posted and it has even gotten several people to ask why. The primary reason I haven’t had a chance to post is since that post I have worked a 40 hour week (in 4 days), followed by a 50, 60 and another 50 hour week. I finally have some time this week as there is a slight downtime in between projects but I don’t expect that to last very long. I was excited for a week or so thinking I would getting a day off for Remembrance Day but apparently the entire of Canada gets that day off except for Ontario because we have some Family Day in February.

The weather here has become increasingly cold with lows often in the lower single digits and even hitting negative degrees a couple of times. It is such a pain now, having to wait to defrost the windshield before leaving for work in the morning and I can only imagine doing this daily once the snow starts falling down which isn’t too far away as reports come in weekly of flurries or overnight accumulation of snow in places about an hour away or so.

One thing I have noticed is that I need to keep better track of my change. Every time I go out at lunch or for a coffee break, I would come back and put the change in a pocket in my bag. I never really looked back into that pocket since I have started working here which was back in July. Over the weeks, that certainly started to take a toll on the weight of the ball and it finally tipped over in my car yesterday morning – fortunately it was there and not on the train or something. It turns out that I had nearly 200 coins in there including several Loonies and Toonies and there is more than enough money there to buy me a full tank of gas, although I don’t think they’d like it if I paid a $50 fill up with 200 coins.

As it gets closer to the end of the year, I am looking forward to heading home down south towards the end of the year and I wouldn’t even mind driving this time since I can probably take about 9 days in total with the three weekdays being off due to Christmas, Boxing Day and New Years. There are only 46 more days (33 not including weekends) but it’s not like I have a countdown calendar at work or anything. We have recently moved into a new house where we weren’t completely settled in last time I visited so that’s going to be a change for sure. I want to connect back with my old soccer coach and my high school but given the timing of my visit, that’s probably going to have to wait for another time.

As always, if any of you are going to be around in the area at the end of December (or in Toronto any other time of the year), give me a shout.


A Short Vacation

Just like that, my mini-vacation is over. Last week, I had taken Thursday and Friday off and flew down to New Jersey via the great Porter Airlines for the first time.

A visit that lasted just over 3 full days makes it very hard to juggle anything else when I have well over 50 close relatives who were in the area. It is something I am becoming gradually accustomed to but visiting the family after a few months was really nice. Visiting at a time of a religious holiday can make it feel even shorter since we were busy pretty much the entire time I was there and even slipping away for a few hours to visit some old friends and roommates was hard to come by.

The airline and airport were a very pleasant surprise. I had never flown with Porter Airlines before but had heard some great things from some coworkers and an uncle. There is a free shuttle from the airline that runs about a block away from my place of work which became very convenient when my carry on bag became slightly heavier than I had anticipated. The shuttle took us to the ferry which motored all of about 200 meters (0.12 miles for you American folks) to the airport.

With minimal passengers, the time it took me to check in, pass security clearance and get to the waiting lounge was probably 10 minutes. That’s when things got to be really fun. I was still fasting the day of my departure and since it was getting very close to sunset time, I needed to find a place to eat. Since the airport was very small, I was having trouble find any sort of food vendors or even a vending machine to dispense so snacks. That is until I ran into a sign that said Café. As I prepared to dish out normal airport costs for minimal food items, I was shocked to see complementary foods and drinks for all passengers waiting in the lounge. It included items such as cookies, peanuts, coffee and all sorts of beverages. They even had a decent size “computer lab” filled with 10-15 Mac computers for people to use. I didn’t check if they offered free wifi but saw plenty of people using their own devices that it might have been the case.

The plane was about as big (or small) as I thought it would be, seating a capacity of 70 people but our flight had barely 20-25 people. The overhead compartment to place your luggage was rather small that it didn’t fit my bag but stowed away nicely underneath the seat. That was probably my only issue with the flight as food was served maybe 5 minutes after take off and the exotic vegetable potato chips probably were the craziest chips I had ever eaten. Besides the flight being just over an hour, I barely had any time to catch up on some much needed sleep – it didn’t help that I had taken coffee with chips earlier to kill off any chance of napping.

I am not sure what took me this long but I have been a heavy user of the program Skype to talk to both friends and cousins back south of the border. I recently got the 5.0 beta which allows video conferencing with up to 10 different people at the same time. It has also been pretty useful to stream videos between people at a much faster pace than each person having to get their own copy. If any of you out there use Skype, feel free to add me and maybe we’ll catch up sometime.


Don’t Blame The Governor… Yet. 3

There are a vast number of public policy issues that arise when policymakers discuss items such as a budget in order to make the best decision not only for the individuals in the community but to improve the society as a whole. Although each issue provides its unique aspect on what impact it plays to improve the lifestyle, it also brings differences not only its regulations but also in unintended consequences. The two categories compared in this analysis are the economic and budget issues as well educational policies including pre- and post-secondary education and what impact one plays upon the other.

Education policies, since the start of the country’s founding, have done well to maintain the basic goals of the American nation. Although for the most of the reasoning behind public education was morally justified, there are signs of political motivation behind an educated public as well. Since its early stages have sustained the firm belief of Thomas Jefferson that the only way the American democratic process could have active, engaged voters would be if they had the ability to read, write and were educated enough to understand the issues they were voting for. He also argued that different forms of learning eased the process of large immigrations assimilate into their communities more fluently. Finally, education paves the way for the worker to be able to find jobs which raise not only their economic, but social status as well.

Over the course of history in the United States, public education has been primarily dealt at the state and local government level. “Policymakers at these levels have guarded this responsibility throughout the years and raised concerns whenever the federal government has attempted to interfere in education policy, especially in primary and secondary schools.” Historically, the federal government has shown a far greater interest in legislating higher education. This can be related to policymakers wanting to reduce the cost of the individuals encouraged to attend college and universities and in the end, provide towards a better-educated population which would certainly stimulate an economic growth. This does not imply that the federal government has no say in the way educational policies are set. The Department of Education lists several goals geared towards legislation associated with the Educate America Act. Amongst the goals are School Readiness, School Completion, Student Achievement and Citizenship, Teacher Education and Professional Development, Mathematics and Science, Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning, and Safe, Disciplined, and Alcohol- and Drug-Free Schools and finally, Parental Participation.

Even though there is little doubt as to whether the budgetary cuts by the current Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, were absolutely necessary, it is still up for debate whether the manner in which the cuts were made were the most efficient for the citizens of New Jersey. There are historical comparisons to be made with prior administrations to govern the state and how the education programs were handled relative to the entire budget. Since most states primarily depend on the property tax revenues to finance public schools, several states have begun to face political and legal pressures. Michigan and Vermont, for example, have adopted statewide sales tax that is then redistributed to the school districts across the state on a need-base basis. However, such an issue has been met with severe resistance from some citizens who seek answers from their local lawmakers as to how their funds are being dispersed. The Vermont Supreme Court subsequently ruled in favor of, and the state legislature passed Act 60, ruling that “equal educational opportunity is a right that must be guaranteed” by the states while others have suggested that although a more active role by the states will eventually be needed, such an increase in support would require a dramatic shift in how many currently fund their public education systems and likely cause states to raise taxes.

Historically speaking, in a 20-year span starting from 1940, the population of the state of New Jersey rose by roughly 50% although the number of people residing in the state’s largest cities would steadily decline for next two decades. The state was relatively slow to react to disperse aid to support the dramatic increase in the state’s population. In the mid 1950’s, the Education Board of Newark Board had estimated it require aid or additional borrowing of up to $50 million to get their school system into a reasonable condition. Even though New Jersey was only behind Montana in terms of school spending, it still ranked a disappointing 37th out of 50 when it came to the amount of aid provided in education. Since then, remedies were taken by the State to ensure students received proper public education in harmony with the state laws of New Jersey. Another subject, which is discussed later, is Abbott District which was a result of a ruling that asserted that public primary and secondary education in poor communities through the state were unconstitutionally substandard and required assistance.

The State of New Jersey has had three elected governors since 2002, each with their vision of what is the appropriate next step for the State. Democrats Jim McGreevey (January 2002 – November 2004) and Jon Corzine (January 2006 – January 2010) and Republican Chris Christie (since January 2010) each had a budget issue as one of the many items a Governor deals with. While comparing education budgets for the past three elected governors, it is easily noticeable that the two administrations prior to Chris Christie had a dramatic increase in their first year budget spending on education (as noted by the table below) although that was during a more stable economic period.

 

Education Budget (in millions)

 


Note: “Year Before”, “First Year” and “Next Year” all indicate the amount allotted
in the budget reference to the year that Governor took office.

Although it is interesting to note the two dramatic rises in terms of education budgets in the first year for the Democratic governors and the negative percent change for the Republican governor, it would be careless to conclude anything amongst party lines without consider a larger sample of history. Additional factors like state of the national economy and relationship of teacher’s union with the governor at the time must also be brought into consideration. On the other hand, the slight increase of 2.14% projected should not be strictly perceived as the education budget will increase under Governor Christie’s proposed budget. The rise is “due to increases in State school aid that is not paid directly to school districts, such as the State’s debt service payments for school construction bonds” and without such considerations, the State appropriations for “direct aid to districts, grant-in-aids, and direct State services” dropped when compared to the FY 2010 budget.

The recently released Office of Legislative Services (OLS) Budget Analysis for the Governors Budget, Fiscal Year 2010-2011 (FY 2011) states the previous fiscal year allotted just a shade over $11.13 billion in Total School Aid while the proposed amount this year is at $10.31 billion – a cut of $819.5 million. An additional $1.057 billion in federal fiscal stimulus money that was available to New Jersey’s school districts in FY 2010 is not available in FY 2011. The Governor significantly cut state spending on non-school aid purposes deeply with the intention that, beyond closing the State’s own massive budget deficit, his administration could achieve the savings necessary to provide school districts with $238 million in increased state funding.

Another OLS Budget Analysis for the Department of Education showed that the amount of funding that the state of New Jersey had budgeted from FY 2009 to FY 2010 decreased by 2.46% while the recommended FY 2011 budget stands at 2.18% increase. Amongst their various findings, a second report detailing the Education budget released by the OLS stated that:

The recommended FY 2007 appropriation for total State aid is $10.4 billion, an increase of $1.04 billion (11.1 percent over the FY 2006 adjusted appropriation for total State aid of $9.4 billion. The largest increase is in the recommended FY 2007 appropriation for Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Assistance, $823.2 million, or 77.3 percent of the total recommended State aid increase.

Of the less than 25 percent of the increase (approximately $215 million) from the State aid was then used to finance the rest of the Education budget which included items such as Special Education programs, Education Opportunity Aid (EOA) grants and Total Facilities Planning and School Building Aid. In comparison, the proposed FY 2011 budget recommends an appropriation of $7.076 billion in direct aid to school districts to support K-12 educational programs which is a steep 13% decline from the amount of aid allocated the fiscal year before and a 15% drop if the impact of “Grown Impact – Payment Changes” are removed. As a consequence of such reductions taking place, 60 different school districts will not receive any direct State school aid in FY 2011.

Governor Christie’s recent budget proposal makes cuts of millions of dollars to the education system in New Jersey. While many agree that cuts are needed to balance the state’s budget, the degree at which funding towards education for the state’s youth, while relatively similar in comparison to previous administrations appears to be astronomical compared to cuts to other areas in this fiscal year. One problem that Governor Christie is facing is his troubled relationship with the New Jersey Education Association. The NJEA did not support Governor Christie during the campaign and from the time he took office in January their relationship has deteriorated. The recent defeat of 316 school budgets across the state exemplifies the public’s attitude towards higher taxes and cuts to programs.

Although it is not necessarily a requirement to attend higher education compared to primary and secondary education, a very large majority of high paying career and companies now require some form of post-secondary education when selecting a candidate. The costs of higher education have increasing gotten out of hand. “In 2007, for example, public higher education costs rose 4.2 percent, which was about twice the rate of inflation” In the past quarter century, the cuts to higher education have varied from a minimal 3.4 percent to as high as 69.6 percent across various states around the country. In 1975-76, the ratio of federal grants to federally guaranteed low-interest loans was a reasonable 2:3. That ratio has since skyrocketed to 2:7 as of 2005-06, and further complicating the mixture are the wholly private loans that have emerged in the past decade representing nearly one out of every five student loans in 2004-05 – or double the percentage of private loans four years earlier.

Another major issue that which should never be ignored when dealing with educational policies in the Garden State are the Abbott Districts. Although they can be a case to analyze on themselves, the Department of Education adopted an outline that provides remedy of “Early Childhood Program Expectations: Standards of Quality” that are comparable to the standards that are pre-determined for grades K-12, and required Abbott districts to integrate them into their preschool programs which as burdensome of an issue maybe, is vital to the progression of the students in the lowest socio-economic status.

After looking through several reports, it seems inevitable that cutting the budget was necessary to reign in the deficit spending for the state of New Jersey and tough decisions needed to be made, regardless of how unpopular. The NJEA is by far one of the strongest unions in the nation that represents 200,000 teachers, education support professionals, higher education professionals, retired and student members with a self proclaimed goal of enhancing public education and improving the quality of system of public educations for all students. Such agendas, like all goals, do come with a price tag and at some point, there needs to be an account for figuring out how to pay for such goals.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Anyon, J. (1997). Ghetto Schooling: A Political Economy of Urban Educational Reform. New York: Teachers College Press.

Hu, W. (2010, April 21). Schools in New Jersey Plan Heavy Cuts After Voters Reject Most Budgets. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/22/education/22schools.html

Kraft, M. E., & Furlong, S. R. (2009). Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives.

Office of Legislative Services. (April 2010). Analysis of the New Jersey Budget: Department of Education. Trenton.

Office of Legislative Services. (2002). Analysis of the New Jersey Fiscal Year 2002-2003 Budget. Trenton.

Office of Legislative Services. (2010). Budget Analysis of the New Jersey Budget, Fiscal Year 2010-2011. Trenton.

Symonds, W. C. (2002, October 14). Closing the School Gap. Business Week , p. 124.

Vermont Department of Education. (2010, March 19). Act 60: The Equal Education Opportunity Act. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from Department of Education: http://education.vermont.gov/new/html/laws/act60_fact_sheet.html