As the new school year gets underway, teacher contract negotiations are continuing in 141 (or 24%) of the state’s school districts, according to New Jersey School Boards Association data. Last year, 183 districts were at the bargaining table when school began.

“While some districts achieve contract settlements prior to the end of the previous school year, it is not uncommon for 100 to 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 can expect to see many districts reach settlement through the fall.”

Feinsod noted that public school teachers never work without a contract. Until a school board and teachers union reach a new agreement, the previous contract—with its guarantee of salary and 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 2016-2017 contracts is 2.62 percent, according to NJSBA. The figure is somewhat higher than last year’s average salary increase of 2.57 percent, but well below the salary increases seen during the first decade of this century, NJSBA data indicate. 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 Much more than salary goes into a contract, however.

“Salary is only one part of the compensation package,” explained Feinsod. Health coverage remains the fastest-growing area of compensation, and many school boards are looking for ways to control those costs, according to NJSBA. 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 2016-2017, many contracts reflect increased work time for teachers, as well as reductions in the cost of health coverage, which result from changes in deductible or premium levels or the elimination or reduction of health insurance waiver options. Other negotiations topics include increased professional development for staff.

As a service organization for local boards of education, 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.

School Board Advancements For 2016-2017, many contracts reflect advancements including increased work time for teachers, and changes to reduce cost of healthcare. Other changes include an increase in districts who are reducing or eliminating the health insurance waiver option; elimination of “longevity” for new hires; and increasing professional development time/days off for staff.

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.

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