Teacher contract negotiations are continuing in approximately 137 (or 24 percent) of the state’s school districts as a new school year begins. Last year, 141 districts were at the bargaining table when school began.

“While some contract settlements are achieved prior to the end of the previous school year in June, it is not uncommon for 100 to 150 districts, or more, to be at the bargaining table when a new school year begins,” explained Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “As is typical, we can expect to see many districts reach settlement through the fall.”

Public school teachers never work without a contract, Feinsod noted. Until a school board and teachers’ union reach a new agreement, the previous contract—with its guarantee of salary and benefits and other protections—remains in place.

Through the negotiation process, local school boards and teachers’ unions agree to the terms and conditions of employment, such as salary and benefits. In addition, for school boards the process can serve to advance district educational goals, including increased instructional time.

Average Raises To date, the statewide settlement rate in New Jersey, or average raise, under 2017-2018 contracts is 2.74 percent. The figure is somewhat higher than last year’s average salary increase of 2.62 percent, but well below the salary increases seen during the first decade of this century, according to NJSBA data. For example, the average settlement rate for contracts covering the 2009-2010 school year was 4.23 percent. (See chart for a history of settlement rates.)

Issues in Negotiations Contracts cover much more than salary, however.

“Salary is only one part of the compensation package,” Feinsod said. Health coverage remains the fastest-growing area of compensation, and many school boards seek ways to control those costs. Teachers must now contribute to the cost of their health benefits, a practice that was rare prior to 2010. The amount of those contributions was expanded as a result of the state’s 2011 pension and health benefits reform act.

“A final settlement reflects discussions in areas such as health benefits, work time changes, and other educational goals,” explained Feinsod.

For 2017-2018, many contracts reflect increased work time for teachers, as well as reductions in the cost of health coverage, which result from changes in deductible or premium levels or the elimination or reduction of health insurance waiver options. Other negotiations topics include increased professional development for staff.

As a service organization for local boards of education, NJSBA provides support during the negotiations process. Services include analysis of the expiring contract, data on collective bargaining agreements, advice on reaching goals through negotiations, and review of salary guides.

“The goal of the board of education is to provide a level of staff compensation aligned with the district’s educational goals and within the financial resources available to the community,” said Feinsod.