Gov. Chris Christie won't give his budget message until March 16, but school districts are already well into the 2010-2011 budget planning process, and it's not going to be pretty.

A letter sent to school administrators by the Department of Education advises them to plan a budget that includes a reduction in state aid.

It emphasizes that the actual aid won't be known until the state budget is presented. But even an elementary school student can do the math. The state just doesn't have the $8 billion it usually gives to schools to help them operate, and unless there is a second batch of federal stimulus money hiding out in Washington, school districts can expect cutbacks.

Former Gov. Jon Corzine used $1 billion in stimulus to keep state aid stable this year. That money is gone.

The governor's education transition team suggested including school employees in a statewide freeze of salaries. But teacher contracts are negotiated by local school boards, and it's  unclear whether Christie could enforce such a mandate.

The NJEA could ask its members to take a voluntary freeze next year.  No that's not a joke.  The very unfunny alternative could be many new unemployed union members. And that's  not good for students or the NJEA.