TRENTON—Average teacher raises are declining, according to a preliminary analysis of 2011-2012 teacher contracts reported by the New Jersey School Boards Association today.
“Reasons for the decline in settlement rates, or average raises, include the two percent tax levy cap, reduced state aid in 2010-2011, and school board concerns about the impact of property taxes and the poor economy on their constituents,” explained Marie S. Bilik, NJSBA executive director.
NJSBA’s statistics indicate a trend toward lower salary increases among recently settled 2011-2012 school year contracts. When looking at all contracts, the average salary increase is 3.19 percent. Those settled after Jan. 1, 2010 include an average salary increase of 2.66 percent, while those settle after Jan. 1, 2011 only include an average salary increase of 2.12 percent. [Note: School district settlement rates include all aspects of salary, including the incremental raises teachers receive for advancing on the salary guide due to their acquisition of an additional year of experience.]
In addition to salary, teacher compensation includes benefits. Association officials note that health benefits have been the most rapidly growing area of compensation. Recent state law requires that school employees contribute to the cost of their health benefits. That change has helped school districts off-set some of the increase in health benefit costs, according to NJSBA.
In addition, 49 percent of the 2011-2012 school district contracts contain other health benefit cost containment provisions, such as changes in coverage levels and higher deductibles or co-pays. These negotiated provisions have helped school boards stay within their tax levy cap, the school boards association reports.
Statewide, 208 school districts have not reached agreement on teacher contracts for 2011-2012.
Prominent issues at the bargaining table are salary levels and additional work time. According to NJSBA, many districts are seeking more teacher-student contact time, as well as time added to the school day and school year to help meet state academic standards and provide required staff training in areas such as New Jersey’s new anti-bullying law.
“It is not unusual for 150 school districts to begin the new school year with the board of education and teachers union still in negotiations,” explained Bilik. “In fact, teachers never work without a contract, the previous agreement—including salary, benefits, and other protections—will remain in effect until the new contract is settled.”
Last year, 158 districts began the new school year while still in negotiations. The 208 districts that remain unsettled this year represents a larger number than in the past. A contributing factor is the number of districts that negotiated one-year agreements in recent years, requiring them to return to the bargaining table this year. Until recently, single-year contracts were unusual, with all but a few districts opting for three-year agreements. Recently, however, some districts opted for contracts of shorter duration due to uncertainty over school funding and proposed state-mandated changes in health benefits.
Seventy-five of the 208 districts that have not reached agreement are at impasse—i.e., negotiations became deadlocked and the state Public Employment Relations Commission has assigned a mediator to help the board and the union move toward agreement. If mediation does not result in a settlement, the parties enter the next stage of impasse, “factfinding.”
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