Teacher contract negotiations are continuing in approximately 150 (or 26 percent) of the state’s school districts, according to New Jersey School Boards Association data. Last year, 137 districts were at the bargaining table when school began.

“It is not uncommon for 150 districts, or more, to be at the bargaining table when the new school year begins,” explained Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “We expect to see many districts reach settlement throughout the fall.”

Feinsod said public school teachers never work without a contract. Until a school board and the teachers’ union reach a new agreement, the previous contract—with its guarantee of salary, benefits and other protections—remains in place.

Through the negotiations process, local school boards and teachers’ unions agree to the terms and conditions of employment, such as salary and benefits. In addition, for school boards the process can serve to advance district educational goals including increased instructional time.

Average Raises To date, the statewide settlement rate, or average raise, under 2018-2019 contracts is 2.90 percent, according to the NJSBA. The figure is somewhat higher than last year’s average salary increase of 2.74 percent, but well below the salary increases seen during the first decade of this century, NJSBA data indicates. For example, the average settlement rate for contracts covering the 2009-2010 school year was 4.23 percent. (See chart for a history of settlement rates.)  

Issues in Negotiations  Contracts cover many issues.

For example, many school boards are looking for ways to control the cost of health care coverage, Feinsod said. 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 state’s 2011 pension and health benefits reform act.

“The final settlement reflects discussions in areas such as health benefits, work time changes, and other educational goals,” explained Feinsod.

For 2018-2019, the cost of health coverage was reduced in many contracts. Savings were achieved through changes in health plans, co-pays and deductibles, or the elimination or reduction of health insurance waiver options. Other settled contracts increased work time and added professional development days for staff.

NJSBA Helps Local Boards  As a service organization for local boards of education, the NJSBA provides support during the negotiations process. Services include analysis of the expiring contract, 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.