September 14, 2010 • Vol. XXXIV • No. 6
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State Review of Teacher Contracts
Well-Intentioned, But Unnecessary

The Senate Budget Committee on Monday reviewed a bill that would require the state’s executive county superintendents to approve collective negotiations contracts before the contracts go into effect.

In addition, the bill, S-2025 (Kyrillos), would give the executive county superintendents the ability to force shared services with other school districts, municipalities or the county.

NJSBA and other education organizations testified before the Senate Budget Committee, which did not release the bill.

The bill requires the executive county superintendents’ review of collective negotiations agreements to adhere to standards adopted by the commissioner of education. “The standards adopted by the commissioner will include, but not be limited to, a required number of work days per year for school district employees and a minimum number of hours per day of pupil contact time for teachers,” according to the bill. “The executive county superintendent may not approve a collective negotiations agreement if it fails to comply with the standards or includes salary, wages, and other forms of compensation that would cause the school district to exceed its tax levy growth limitation or prohibits the subcontracting of school district services.”

NJSBA believes the proposal is well-intentioned, but it will create an additional and unnecessary layer of red tape on local boards of education, while placing a greater burden on the overworked offices of the executive county superintendents.

The criteria, established through commissioner of education regulations, are adequately addressed in law and practice. The current status of collective bargaining does not necessitate the proposed review by the state officials, according to NJSBA.

The bill would not allow a contract to ban subcontracting of non-educational services. However, under current New Jersey public sector labor law, the subcontracting of services is a managerial prerogative and it is not allowed to be subject to negotiation. “Therefore, a provision prohibiting subcontracting should never, ever be found in a collective bargaining agreement,” NJSBA testified.

In addition, the bill would require contracts to contain provisions specifying a number of instructional hours per day and school days per year. “These subjects are terms and conditions of employment and, therefore, under current law must be addressed through collective bargaining,” NJSBA said. “Existing school district contracts contain such provisions.”

Also, contracts would have to provide for employee contributions to the cost of health coverage. “In today’s economic climate, this concept is critical. However, a state law, passed earlier this year, will automatically require all public employees to contribute to the cost of their health insurance coverage,” NJSBA noted. “Prior to enactment of that law, local school boards had been successfully negotiating significant cost-containment of health coverage. For each of the past two school years, almost two-thirds of new teacher contracts contained provisions that established or expanded financial efforts by employees to contain health insurance costs.”

Finally, NJSBA noted that S-2025 sets a criterion related to the increase in compensation reflected in new contracts. “But, in fact, we are already accomplishing the legislation’s goal without the need for executive county superintendent review,” according to NJSBA’s statement. “According to NJSBA statistics, new teacher contracts negotiated since January provide average raises of 1.91 percent, an increase below the newly established 2 percent tax levy cap. The current state of the economy and the prospect of the lower tax levy cap are having the impact sought by this legislation.”

NJSBA said the level of review proposed in the bill is “unnecessary and will be counter-productive,” and instead urged changes in negotiations law and the fact-finding process.

Regarding the bill’s provision for forced shared services, NJSBA noted that future expansion of shared service arrangements will be critical to save tax dollars. “However, we must approach the practice carefully. Sharing a superintendent, for example, may be very effective for some districts, while for others, different types of shared administrative arrangements may be of more benefit. Local school boards are in the best position to identify those areas where services can be made less costly and more effective through sharing. Certainly, we would welcome the executive county superintendents’ assistance and guidance in this area, but an informed decision comes at the local level, not from Trenton.”

A 2007 study by NJSBA and Rutgers-Newark showed that 97 percent of New Jersey school districts engage in some type of shared services.

 

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