The definition of “trend,” according to Merriam-Webster, is a line of general direction or movement. When we examine trends in average settlement rates for teachers’ contracts throughout New Jersey, we see that average settlement rates historically gather around a tightly grouped trend line and tend to increase and decrease at a steady rate.

However, that all changed beginning with the 2009-2010 school year when the trend deviated substantially by taking a precipitous fall. While teacher’s settlements were already trending downward in the previous years, a more dramatic change occurred in 2010-2011, when the average increases dropped almost a full percentage point. That type of difference from one year to another was unheard of and was attributable, in part, to the enactment of the 2 percent tax levy cap. The steady downward trend continued through the 2013-2014 school year as teachers’ increases dropped to 2.30 percent, the lowest average recorded since NJSBA began tracking these rates in the 1970s.

Since then, teachers’ average percent increases are trending back up at a slow, but steady, pace. As this article goes to press, the average increase statewide is 2.90 percent.  As usual, outliers to teacher’s settlements exist on both ends of the spectrum.

Circumstances may dictate whether a settlement is lower or higher than average.  For example, a district may have settled for a higher-than-average increase than other districts in its county, but in exchange, received an additional 10 minutes of duty or instructional time per day that was critical to the needs of that district. On the other hand, lower-than-expected increases may be attributed to a particular district’s financial constraints and/or the union’s reluctance to negotiate any cost-saving concessions.  Therefore, even when strong county, regional, or statewide trends are evident, an individual board’s situation may necessitate diverging from the “average.”

If settlement rates that deviate from the norm are used as examples to compare teachers’ pay increases, negotiators should be able to distinguish those rates as possible aberrations that are not necessarily part of a wider trend. Boards should also understand the union may have carefully chosen data to support its position and by limiting the selection of comparisons, it can distort the true range of teachers’ settlements. Boards should be prepared to counter these arguments by understanding the trend, its causes, and the union’s interpretation of data supporting its position.

Ultimately, it is the local community that must support the rising cost of education, including compensation. Therefore, it must be emphasized that a district’s ability to pay, as well as what is of utmost importance to your district, must play a larger role than any “trend” to the contrary.

Pick up your copy of the new, semi-annual bulletin Trends in Teacher Contract Negotiations at Workshop 2018, located in the Legal & Labor Relations booth on the exhibit floor or at Labor Relations Mini-Workshop session on Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 9:30 a.m., in Room 303.