The New Jersey School Boards Association collects and maintains a database of teacher contract bargaining data, including settlement rates, board gains, salary guides and more.
NJSBA urges school board negotiations committees to bargain with a primary focus on their board’s ability to pay and what makes sense for their district, rather than relying mainly on comparative settlements in surrounding school districts. 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 agreements are being made in other districts. 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 to the 135 New Jersey school districts with teachers contracts that expired June 30, 2023 (with 84% of the districts responding at the time this article was written), has found that a collectively negotiated agreement has been reached in at least 68% of those districts, some of which are still pending ratification. Further inquiries to those school districts that remain unsettled for the 2023-2024 school year indicate that at least 29% of those districts are at impasse and are now in, or about to go into, the mediation process. There are also still several districts whose teachers contract expired June 30, 2022, that have not yet reached a settlement for a successor agreement and are now going through impasse procedures as well.
For new teachers contracts that began with the 2023-2024 cycle that have reached a settlement and reported it to NJSBA, the average increase — inclusive of increment — is 3.56% for 2023-2024. The preliminary average increase for 2024-2025 is 3.53%, and 3.47% for 2025-2026. In comparison, settlements for contracts that began with the 2022-2023 cycle, had average increases of 3.46% for 2022-2023, 3.38% for 2023-2024 and 3.32% for 2024-2025.
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 obtained a concession on tuition reimbursement or reduced its payment for unused sick leave, which may have resulted in savings to the board.
NJSBA has determined through individual district surveys that 46% of the new teachers contracts that begin with the 2023-2024 cycle have reported some type of concession from the association. Some of those changes include more flexibility in scheduling, additional student contact time and reducing or phasing out health insurance waiver payments.
However, two of the most notable trends, both of which are not necessarily a “board” achievement, have been observed since coming out of the pandemic – shorter salary guides and longer contracts.
Shorter Salary Guides The average length of a teachers salary guide in New Jersey increased during the 2013-2014 school year from 16 steps to 17 steps and stayed level through 2021-2022. However, since coming out of the pandemic, the number of steps on a teachers salary guide is being reduced once again, bringing the average back down to 16 steps. This may not seem like a large decrease, but considering there are several hundred school districts, it takes a good number of them reducing their salary guide steps to affect that average. Boards that have recently sent their union-proposed salary guides to NJSBA for review are frequently showing districts shortening their guides by one, two or more steps over the course of their agreement.
Shorter guides tend to have larger increments, so depending on where your staff falls on the guide, fewer steps can result in a large built-in cost of increment – which is the amount the board will incur by moving everyone (not on max) up one step on the guide. The length of the guide also affects how quickly a teacher travels through the guide, so a shorter guide may have more staff at the maximum salary rates, resulting in an overall higher salary cost for the board.
Before negotiations start, the board should conduct a structural analysis of the expiring teachers salary guide and compute the current cost of increment. NJSBA offers a teachers Salary Guide Wellness Check as a dues-based service to help your negotiating team determine where the issues lie within the current structure of your guide.
Once you have reached a settlement and have proposed salary guides from the union, the Wellness Check service also includes an analysis of one set of proposed teachers salary guides to determine what changes that may have occurred to the structure of the guide and to make sure it costs out correctly, according to what was agreed upon in your memorandum of agreement.
Longer Contracts While three-year contracts are still the most popular, a record number of one-year agreements occurred during pandemic years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022. Many settled quickly to move on from negotiations and reached a one-year agreement for salary-only. The sentiment at the time was to address other pandemic-related issues the board was facing with the idea of negotiating a longer contract next time.
Since 2022-2023 and continuing into 2023-2024, an unprecedented number of four- and five-year agreements have been reported. It is important to note that it was the employees union who asked for a change in the law to allow for five-year agreements, which was enacted in January 2013. Since the enactment, the percentage of five-year agreements ranged from 2%-9% each year until 2022-2023, when 17% of the reported contract settlements were of five-year duration. Of the settlements reported so far for the 2023-2024 cycle, 26% of them are five-year contracts, indicating the push for longer agreements isn’t slowing down.
While it’s understandable the parties would like to limit the amount of time spent negotiating, longer contracts result in the inability of the board to react to changes in their economic circumstances or the educational priorities of the district. For example, if a provision is no longer needed, or state aid is drastically cut two years into a five-year agreement, the board’s hands are tied until that contract expires. The board should carefully weigh the desire to negotiate less often with the conditions a longer contract imposes on a future board of education and consider what will the board gain by agreeing to a longer contract.
Negotiations Data Portal As districts prepare to go into their next negotiations cycle with the teachers union, it is important for the board and the negotiating team to gain an understanding of current trends, review current settlement increases and research the competitiveness of its salary guide.
NJSBA made significant improvements to the way it disseminates the negotiations and contract data it collects. In February, the labor relations unit released a newly updated Negotiations Data Portal (previously titled Current Negotiations Data), a members-only area of the website, which includes a new custom data report generator. This feature allows the user to select the criteria for the report (e.g. county, enrollment group, etc.) that can be viewed in a table on the screen, downloaded into a printable .pdf report, or downloaded into a spreadsheet.
The data contained within the Portal is obtained through surveys to each district’s administration office and through an interpretation of the submitted contract and salary guides. It is important to note that not all districts respond to the submitted survey or send in their collective bargaining agreement. NJSBA strives to keep members up to date with current negotiations trends and relies upon each district’s continued contributions for this data collection endeavor to be as complete, and meaningful, as possible.