TRENTON, August 25, 2015—As schools prepare to open in early September, negotiations over teacher contracts are continuing in more than 31 percent of the state’s communities, the New Jersey School Boards Association reported today. The status of negotiations is roughly the same as it was this time last year, according to NJSBA, which tracks contract negotiations in 579 school districts.
“It is not unusual for 150 or more school districts to be at the bargaining table when the school year begins,” explained Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, “So, parents and students should not worry. There should be no impact on the opening of school or on school operations.
“We can expect to see many districts reach settlement throughout the fall,” he continued.
“Teachers never work without a contract,” Feinsod explained. “When a school board and teachers union have not reached a new agreement, the previous contract—with its guarantee of salary and benefits and other protections—remains in place until a new agreement is reached.”
Of the 211 school districts that entered negotiations for contracts beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, 136 have not reached settlement. Contracts in those 211 districts expired on June 30, 2015. Forty-seven other districts are still in negotiations following the expiration of contracts that expired in 2014 or earlier. Last year, 178 districts were at the bargaining table when school began.
Average Raises/Health Insurance Contributions
For 2015-2016, the average public school teacher in New Jersey will receive a 2.52 percent raise, according to NJSBA. The average pay raise, or “settlement rate,” is based on 306 ratified agreements covering the upcoming school year, including those in the first, second or third year of the contract.
The figure is somewhat higher than last year’s average salary increase of 2.47 percent, but well below the salary increases seen just a few years ago, NJSBA data indicate. For example, the average settlement rate for contracts covering the 2009-2010 school year was 4.23 percent. (See chart.)
“Salary is only one part of the compensation package,” said Feinsod. “Often, the settlement rate reflects union concessions in areas such as health benefits, work time changes, and other educational goals.”
In addition, teachers must now contribute to the cost of their health benefits, a practice that was rare prior to 2010. The amount of those contributions was expanded as a result of the 2011 pension and health benefits reform act.
School Board Advancements
For 2015-2016, almost 75 percent of the contracts also reflect advancements, ranging from increased teacher-student contact time, including a longer school day or school year, to changes in salary administration.
- In approximately 39 percent of contracts, the school board was able to negotiate more instructional time. Last year, 37 percent of new contracts included provisions for increased instructional time.
- Another 21 percent of settled agreements include a salary policy change, such as freezing or eliminating longevity steps; freezing stipends; or restructuring the salary guide to reduce high increment costs.
NJSBA provides support to local school boards during the negotiations process. Services include analysis of the expiring agreement, data on collective bargaining agreements, advice on reaching goals through negotiations, and review of salary guides.
“The goal of the board of education is to provide a level of staff compensation aligned with the district’s educational goals and within the financial resources available to the community,” said Feinsod.