The Politics of High School ReformJanuary 28, 2009
Rush Holt on N.J.’s “Skimming Problem”January 30, 2009
If you want a sense of the zeitgeist in New Jersey regarding teacher salaries, there’s no better barometer than the public reaction to the recent contract settlement in Roxbury Township. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the school board had approved a four-year settlement in the Morris County township of 4.3%, 4.7%, 4.7%, and 4.7%. Currently there are 324 comments, mostly outraged, appended to the article as readers declaim their horror at what is viewed as irresponsible and exorbitant wage hikes. The story itself, from the normally staid A.P., begins,
Teachers in Roxbury Township are getting raises at a time when many private sector employees have had their salaries frozen.
An editorial today in the Star-Ledger notes that, while Roxbury teachers have a comparably low starting salary of about $40,000, the contract awards a 19.7% increase over four years, warns local school boards to “hold the line,” and places the blame squarely on the back of the NJEA:
You see, that’s the New Jersey Education Association’s game. The union scares the lower-paying districts into believing they won’t attract good teachers unless they agree to oversize raises. Then, the NJEA moves on to the next lower-paying district with the same argument. It becomes a game of leap-frog as every district tries to be above average.
The relationship between unions and employees is typically strained – it’s the nature of the beast. The strain becomes a real muscle cramp in a time of economic downturn. But the failure of NJEA to even acknowledge that strange times call for unusual concessions has a measurable affect on public support.
Teachers work hard and deserve to be paid like professionals. $40,000 for a starting salary is low. But once you add on lifetime job security after three years of employment, summers off, and generous benefits, you get blowback. Continues the Ledger,
But the starting salary — the smallest salary earned by the smallest number of teachers — is a smoke screen used to make any contract more palatable. The median salary for Roxbury teachers in 2007-08 was $57,895. That number is more relevant. And by the end of the contact, it will be $69,305.
NJEA is stuck in a time warp when teachers had to fight for every dollar and were vastly undervalued. That’s no longer the case. In addition, local districts have frozen all non-payroll spending and are cutting to the bone. The union could go a long way toward regaining public support by, say, agreeing to a salary freeze for a year. If they don’t take some action that brings teachers into line with the community, the public — and local school boards — will have no compunction about muscling them out of the fold.