Christie Makes Nice With New Jersey’s Gym Teachers After Salary Comments

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he has nothing against gym teachers, after the state’s education union criticized his comment that math and science teachers should earn more than those in physical education.

“Cut the crap,” Christie, a first-term Republican, said today when a reporter asked him to respond to comments by Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association.

The Star-Ledger newspaper quoted Wollmer as saying, “What’s he got against gym teachers?” after Christie said science and math educators should be paid more, during a live Facebook chat on Nov. 14. Wollmer confirmed those comments today in a telephone interview.

Christie called Wollmer’s response “juvenile.”

“You know I don’t hate gym teachers,” he told reporters in Secaucus, where he urged legislators to pass his proposals to overhaul the public-education system. His measures would institute merit pay for teachers and make it easier for administrators to fire those deemed to be inadequate.

Schools need math and science teachers, so they should offer higher pay to draw them, Christie said.

‘Political Thugs’

Christie has battled the 195,000-member teachers’ union after cutting school aid and raising employee pension and benefit costs. He has called the organization’s leaders “political thugs.”

Wollmer said he didn’t mean to imply that Christie “hated” gym teachers, only to ask why they should be paid less, he said in a phone interview.

“‘Cut the crap’ isn’t very gubernatorial, is it?” Wollmer said. “Each teacher contributes equally to students’ success.”

Physical-education instructors are no less educated than their counterparts in math and science, Wollmer said. Their college training includes exercise physiology and other health- oriented areas, he said.

“It’s not an easy course of study,” he said.

Kevin Roberts, a Christie spokesman, said the governor’s education proposals “allow for differentiated pay because there is a real problem that needs to be addressed: a shortage of math and science teachers.”

“So allowing differentiated pay for a biology teacher, for example, not only allows you to incentivize teachers to specialize in these high-need subject areas, but also in high- need/low-performing districts as well -- something not allowed today,” Roberts said by e-mail.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elise Young in Trenton at eyoung30@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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