Teachers under fire in New Jersey

Teachers and their unions are under a lot of pressure to accept changes in terms of employment and compensation. Salaries, pensions, health benefits and layoffs are being discussed in many states in response to state budget deficits. Tenure, evaluations, training, performance pay and bonuses are on the table as levers to raise the overall effectiveness of teachers.

And then there’s New Jersey, where, in the words of an article in The Record newspaper, Republican Gov. Chris Christie has made teachers “a particular target of the administration as it looks to close an $11 billion budget gap.” Christie is proposing that, starting Aug. 1, teachers and other public employees contribute to the cost of their health benefits in retirement. He’s also asked that teachers accept a one-year pay freeze. (Few locals have agreed.) Earlier legislation requires new employees to contribute to the cost of their benefits. The New Jersey Education Association has fought hard over the past decade against proposals for teachers to contribute to the cost of their health benefits. The union is outraged over  Christie’s stances.  Teachers have marched and protested, and are running ads. One union local president even wrote to his members that he was praying for Christie’s death. The governor has called on the union to fire that official.

New Jersey teachers earned, on average, $63,000 during the 2008-2009 school year, according to the National Education Association. Only teachers in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and California are paid more. It’s expensive to live in all of those states.  But over the past decade, teachers’ salaries in New Jersey have grown more slowly than they have elsewhere. Relative to inflation, New Jersey teachers’ salaries have gone down about 6 percent over the past decade.

— Richard Lee Colvin