The New Jersey School Boards Association collects and maintains a database of teacher contract bargaining data, including settlement rates, board gains, salary guides, work time, insurance matters and more.

NJSBA urges school board negotiations committees to bargain with a primary focus on their board’s ability to pay, rather than relying mainly on comparative settlements in surrounding school districts. New Jersey is now in an age where school districts have experienced major fluctuations in state aid, among other economic challenges, therefore, the concept of a “going rate” should, and has, become less important to negotiators.   

Nevertheless, comparative data should not be completely discounted. Board members, especially those on the negotiating team, should be knowledgeable about settlement data and current trends in contract negotiations. Comparative data can provide boards with a sense of what other districts are agreeing to.  It can also provide board members with a sense of how competitive their district is in various areas, such as pay and work time, as well as the overall negotiations climate, before sitting down at the negotiating table.

Settlement Rates The results of our continuing surveys of the New Jersey school districts whose teacher’s contracts expired on June 30, 2019, with 98% of the districts responding, has found that a collectively negotiated agreement has been reached for at least 138 out of the 166 expired contracts, some of which are still pending ratification. The results of the recent inquiries to those school districts also indicated that 17% of the unsettled districts were still in active negotiations, and 83% were in the mediation or fact-finding process.  No districts reported being in super-conciliation at the time this article was written. NJSBA is not aware of any unsettled contracts for teacher’s agreements that expired prior to June 30, 2019. In addition, the number of unsettled agreements are fewer today than is typically seen at this point in time in any given year.

It is important to note, due to COVID-19 and the statewide closures, a few districts that were still in face-to-face negotiations before the virus hit our area, have reported they are now conducting negotiations remotely through a virtual venue. However, some districts have reported a postponement of their mediation and fact-finding sessions during this time. Delays in reaching a settlement and/or ratifying a new contract can be expected during this unprecedented time.

For new teacher’s contracts that begin with the 2019-2020 cycle, the average increase — inclusive of increment — is 3.10% for 2019-2020, 3.14% for 2020-2021, and 3.13 % for 2021-2022. The average increases are up slightly from districts whose contracts began with the 2018-2019 cycle, with average increases of 3.00% for 2018-2019 and 3.05% for 2019-2020, and 3.06% for 2020-2021.

Board Achievements In considering settlement rates, board members should also consider concessions from the teachers association achieved in the bargaining process, which can affect the effective cost of the settlement. For example, a district may have bargained for more student contact time, achieved a cap on tuition reimbursement, moved to a less expensive health insurance plan, eliminated a longevity provision, or obtained some other type of change that can help put those increases in the proper perspective.

NJSBA has determined through individual district surveys that 74% of teacher contract settlements covering the 2019-2020 school year have reported some type of concession from the association. There is a notable trend of school districts changing health plans to more cost-effective options, something that has been occurring over the last several years, with 46% of districts reporting this or some other health insurance cost containment. Other gains reported by the boards include increasing student contact time or other workday changes, and eliminating bubble steps on the salary guide.

Health Insurance Contributions Chapter 78, the law requiring public employees to contribute to their health insurance premiums, has reached sunset and those employee contributions are now negotiable in all New Jersey school districts, and for some districts, has been negotiable for several years now. NJSBA has determined through surveys of school districts and an analysis of teacher’s collective bargaining agreements that approximately one-third of districts statewide have negotiated a reduction to their teachers Chapter 78 contributions or have provided the employee with a stipend to offset those contributions. 

Boards of education negotiating committees have continued tackling the issue of rising health care premiums affecting both the board’s and employee’s budgets. On July 1, 2020, the governor signed S-2273, which requires the creation of lower-cost health plans, while shifting employees to a salary-based premium sharing schedule, with the goal of reducing costs for both staff and boards of education. The legislation was the product of an agreement reached by the Senate president and the New Jersey Education Association. An in-depth analysis of the legislation was published in the June 30, 2020 issue of School Board Notes.

The table accompanying this story displays a selection of recent settlements reached over the past 12 months or so. More detailed data is available on the NJSBA website, where settlements and negotiations data is accessible to members (password required). For specific reports based upon your selected criteria (i.e. similar enrollment group), members may also contact Sandy Raup at (609) 278-5224.

NOTE: According to NJSBA records, 182 teacher’s contracts expired on June 30, 2020. Our survey, sent to school business administrators and designed to ascertain the status of negotiations, as well as obtain details on any teacher’s settlement reached so far for the 2020-2021 school year, was underway throughout June. Please check our website for preliminary results from our survey.

Sandy Raup is an NJSBA data analyst.