There’s always plenty of debate about New Jersey charter schools: Are they better than district schools? How should they be funded? Who should approve and monitor them?
But one issue is not up for debate: These alternative public schools -- at least most of them -- struggle to pay their teachers on par with district schools. There are a number of factors at play. Charters have less public funding under state law, for one, and their teachers are typically less experienced, since the schools themselves are newer.
And at least one other consideration should be taken into account: Just nine of the state’s nearly 90 charters are union shops.
Nonetheless, a few of the schools have done better than others in trying to keep up with their district counterparts, the bulk of them being the state’s oldest and most-established charters.
The following are the top-paying charters in 2013-2014, according to the state’s annual staff-salary data, listed by the average salary of their full-time certified teachers.
One of the original 13 charters in the state, the K-8 school sought to keep up with the Hoboken district’s pay in its early years, school leaders said, but fell behind as state funding grew for Hoboken but not so much for charters. With comparable average experience, the school’s salary trails the district’s average pay of $75,047.
Also one of the original charters from 1997, Princeton Charter School is the oldest in the state operating in a suburban district. It also boasts some of the most-experienced teachers, averaging more than 10 years. Still, its typical teacher makes $10,000 less than the district average of $79,195.
The Jersey City K-8 school also sees a wide gap with its host city, where Jersey City’s district average is $78,123. One difference here: Soaring Heights is one of two schools on the list with teachers represented by the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union.
Also one of the initial 13, TEAM is part of the KIPP charter network and has grown to be among the largest networks in the state, with seven schools in Newark. While well below the district average salary of $72,746, TEAM’s performance bonuses -- not included in these numbers -- make up for the disparity, school leaders said, with some teachers topping $110,000 at just seven years.
The K-8 school is now in its 14th year, its teachers have about six years of experience on average, half that of the Jersey City norm. And the pay shows it, more than $15,000 less than Jersey City’s average.
The second Newark charter on the list, North Star is also one of the state’s original 13 and among the most prominent in the country, starting as a single school in 1997 and growing to 10 schools in Newark. Pay at the charter is well below the district average salary of $72,746.
Given the Englewood district average of $64,741, this charter school is the closest to achieving parity with its district peers. With a little over nine years in average years in the classroom, the charter’s teachers actually are typically more experienced than those in district schools.
Teaneck’s district average is $79,746, making it one of the highest paying of the district hosting showers. Its lone charter school has not been able to keep up, even with its teachers represented by the NJEA.
The only “blended learning” model on the list, Merit Prep opened in 2012 with an approach that brought online learning to a classroom setting. The teachers are still required to be fully certified, and the school has an average classroom experience of three years, well below the district average of $72,746.
The only Camden charter school on the list, Freedom Prep was taken over by the Democracy Prep charter school network in 2012 after years of low performance. Its teachers are far less experienced than those in Camden as a whole, averaging just over three years, while the pay also lags behind Camden’s, which averages $65,885.