Teacher Pay Palaver

The lead article in the Star-Ledger today says that the economic recession is slightly influencing teacher contract talks, but not without some blowback by the NJEA. According to NJSBA, the average salary increase in New Jersey for the 2004-2005 school year was 4.69%, but for contracts negotiated since October the average is 4.4%. Statistical aberration or trend?

NJEA says the economy should have no impact on teacher salaries. According to the Star-Ledger, NJEA spokeswoman Christy Kanaby argued,

You need to maintain those salaries that they have worked so hard to achieve. When the economy was good and plenty of money was coming in to districts, nobody was coming to teachers and saying, 'You deserve a double-digit increase.' I'm not sure why people expect teachers to take a step backwards.

But everyone’s aware of the fall-out from the recent settlement in Roxbury. “Roxbury Teachers Get Nearly 20% Raise,” railed the Associated Press. “Roxbury is out step with teacher pay hike,” rabble-roused the Star-Ledger. “Teacher Pay Increase Recession-Proof,” raged the Daily Record. “Teachers in Roxbury Township are getting raises at a time when many private sector employees have had their salaries frozen,” ruminated Newsday. You get the idea.

So, NJEA claims that the “tough economic times” argument is gratuitous. But the vast majority of the public thinks otherwise. (Yeah, we know it’s the Mainstream Media, but check out the voluminous public comments appended to some of these links.) Does public perception matter? Will arbitrators care?

The Daily Record piece concludes,

Change can only come about if a district is courageous enough to challenge the system. Let a district refuse to budge from its 2 percent offer and let the negotiating process in all its steps be carried out. And when the district inevitably loses, let it go to court and challenge the system. That's the only way to bring about a negotiating session that considers such external factors as the general economy and the state's high property taxes.

So, are we mad enough that we won't take it any more? Does the NJEA have any concerns about public perception? Are board members worried about reelection if they are on record approving out-of-sync pay hikes? The State Legislature has taken on all sorts of obscure school management issues; will they bite on this one?