The school board of a well-to-do district in Monmouth County, Marlboro K-8 School District Board of Education, has found their inner Hulk and gone rogue – newspaper ads, web postings — about a contract dispute with their local teachers’ union, the Marlboro Township Education Association. After the Board and MTEA reached an impasse over salary increases and benefits, they proceeded to a state-appointed Fact-Finder, who just issued his (non-binding) report. In an unusual move, the Board rejected the Fact-Finder’s recommendations, alerted the media, and posted the Fact-Finder’s report on their website.
Here’s the skinny: by the time they got to Fact-Finding, both sides were down to their best offer: MTEA asked for 15% salary increases for teachers over the next three year and no employee contribution to health care premiums, per past practice. The Board proposed 13% salary increases for teachers over three years and contributions to health care premiums: $725 per year for a single employee out of a $9,180 package and $950 per year for a family out of a $21,596 package.
The Fact-Finder took 63 pages to rule that salaries for MTEA should be increased by 12.66% over three years and that there should be no employee premium contributions, reasoning,
As more districts face negotiations in the current economic climate, settlement rates may well moderate somewhat. While I anticipate smaller increases, there is no indication of a dramatic drop off. In fact, NJSBA numbers showed a slight retrenchment from the 3d to the 4th quarter of ’08, 4.69% to 4.44%.
And on the health premiums: “While the Board argued strongly for an employee contribution, its presentation and documentation did not carry its burden to make such a change out of the mainstream of districts for the State and the County.”
In other words, teacher salaries and benefits are impervious to current economic climate. A pattern of about 4%-5% annual increases and no premium contribution has been operative in N.J,,and external vagaries are irrelevant. The non-teaching world may be different – the fact-finder writes, “(t)he District may point to the private sector where contributions may be more common, but it is not in the private sector” – but that’s like comparing apples and oranges.
The same argument is going on nationally about merit pay. Typically in the private sector, employee compensation is tied to productivity and performance. But in the teaching sector, employee compensation is tied to time served and degrees held, in part because learning and instruction is felt to be unmeasurable by any real metric, somehow mystical or ineffable.
Sure, it’s part of the culture: teachers unions were modeled on industrial unions after a long history of being underpaid and unappreciated and hefty annual increases and free benefits have been intended to help teachers “catch up.” But at what point do annual salary increases out of whack with the private sector become historical artifacts, a kind of affirmative action meant to allay inequities of the past? Are we there yet?