Salaries for NJ Teachers Moving Up After Several Years in Doldrums

John Mooney | October 5, 2016 | Education
Teachers union says pay hikes do not compensate for bigger employee contributions to pensions and healthcare

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With the latest contract settlements, New Jersey’s teacher salary increases are starting to creep up again after a precipitous drop seven years ago, although there is hardly a consensus about what the trend means.

In its annual release, the New Jersey School Boards Association put out its update on the state of school contracts at the start of the school year, and one message was clear —salary increases for teachers have bottomed out from the Great Recession and Christie administration tax caps and have started to climb back.

According to the association, this year’s settled contracts are showing salary increases for 2017-2018 at about 2.66 percent so far up up slightly from last year and more significantly from a low of 2.3 percent in 2003-2004.

Those figures are still far short of the 4.6 percent peak a decade ago, according to the association’s data, and even double that in the headier 1990s. But after tense negotiations in the aftermath of the recession and the start of the state’s 2 percent property tax caps, when some officials even called for wage freezes, districts appear to be loosening their wallets a little in terms of salaries.

But both school boards and the state’s dominant teachers union downplayed this as a sign that teacher pay is rebounding entirely — albeit for different reasons.

“Salary is only one part of the compensation package,” said Lawrence Feinsod, the association’s executive director, in putting out the update last month.

“Health coverage remains the fastest-growing area of compensation, and many school boards are looking for ways to control those costs,” he said. “Teachers must now contribute to the cost of their health benefits, a practice that was rare prior to 2010.”

Feinsod pointed to what he said were also increased demands on teachers in terms of instructional time and professional development.

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

The New Jersey Education Association has its own take, not much disputing the association’s numbers. It said the average increases may be closer to 3 percent, but maintaining its members are paying out more than ever before.

“While (salary increases) may sound like a good thing for our members, it is not altogether a step forward,” said Christy Kanaby, an NJEA spokeswoman, in an email this week. “New Jersey school employees are paying more (under pension and health benefit reforms) now than a few years ago with their mandatory benefits contributions. 

“Boards of educations, on the other hand, are seeing a reduction in benefits costs on their end and thus, are settling for higher amounts.  However, it is an illusion to think that it means more money in a school employee’s pocket.  In some cases, the employee barely breaks even, but in many more, the employee continues to see his/her take-home pay continue to decrease even though gross salaries are slightly increasing.”