Asked and Answered

This week School Board Notes introduces a new feature prepared by the staff of the Legal and Labor Relations Services Department. “Asked and Answered” reflects the information, data and guidance available to NJSBA members through this important unit of the Association. 

How to Prepare for Bargaining

Negotiating union contracts is one of the most important responsibilities of boards of education across New Jersey. Bargaining can be a daunting and difficult task, especially if you are new to your board or to your board’s negotiations committee. The teachers’ contract is important because it has an extraordinary impact on a district’s budget and educational programming. Let’s take a quick look at basic, but important, bargaining considerations for board members:

Preparation is Key: Union negotiators are going to come to the table prepared to make an argument for what they think is just and right. Preparation by a board for negotiations should begin well in advance of the first bargaining session.

Guidelines for Success: The board must develop parameters, or guidelines, for an acceptable settlement. The process of establishing parameters focuses the board on its goals, objectives, and priorities.

Locking in the Numbers: Early in the process—before the parties start to bargain in earnest—they should agree on a scattergram or placement of staff on the salary guide, and calculate the salary base. Once the parties have signed off on the scattergram, the standard practice is to freeze that scattergram and salary base for the purpose of determining salary increases and salary guide construction over the entire term of the contract.

Using Comparative Data: Comparative data has limitations and ought not to be determinative of the board’s positions, but is used by both the board and the union to support their arguments and positions.

Health Insurance at Issue: The vast majority of districts in or entering contract negotiations are past the “sunset” date of the mandated employee health care contribution provided for in the P.L. 2011, Chapter 78. Thus, it is very likely that the union will propose a reduction in those contributions. NJSBA data shows most districts are maintaining tier four contribution levels, but the board must be prepared for the union in case the issue is brought to the table.

 Negotiation is a Trade-Off: To achieve the board’s goals, the board team should ensure that agreements on union issues are contingent on the union’s acceptance of board issues.

Patience is Important: Remaining patient and staying the course will enable the board to obtain an effective and productive settlement.

NJSBA is Here to Help: School board members are welcome to contact the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department for information, data, and assistance. Contact us at