Back in the mid-1980s, hard as this may be to believe today, it was a Republican governor of New Jersey who pushed for and won a minimum starting salary for teachers of $18,500. That gave a $4,000 raise to some 20,000 teachers. Total cost: $80 million.
Fast forward to today, and the average teacher in New Jersey is making $60,000 after a decade in education, the latest data from the New Jersey School Report Card shows. It’s about $10,000 less in charter schools and $10,000 more in special service districts.
It seems pretty clear Gov. Thomas H. Kean’s effort at giving teachers a living wage worked well.
Inflation would put that minimum salary near $38,000 today, so an average that is $22,000 above the minimum is not too shabby.
That average includes those at the lower end and those at the upper, many of which are in wealthy Morris and Somerset counties.
Interestingly, the highest salary in the region for the 2010-11 school year was in Hopatcong, where the average teacher got nearly $78,000, 28 percent higher than in 2008-09, according to the state data.
That typical Hopatcong teacher had 12 years experience. Next on the list locally was Mountain Lakes, with just over $77,000 for 14 years. Both schools are K-12 districts, but the community of Mountain Lakes is significantly wealthier and its students score higher on standardized tests.
However, test scores have no bearing on salaries, although it typically has been the case that wealthier districts have paid their teachers more as taxpayers have been more willing to support larger increases.
For a long time, Hopatcong was the home of one of New Jersey’s highest paid schools superintendents, Wayne Threlkeld. In fact, Threlkeld’s salary and benefits were highlighted in a 2006 State Commission of Investigation report on the cost of school officials’ perks. Threlkeld has since retired and the current superintendent, Charles Maranzano, is getting a salary more in line with the recent state-imposed caps.
Thus far, the report card averages don’t show that those caps—$175,000 maximum for the chiefs in all but those districts with more than 10,000 students—haven’t had much of an effect on overall administrative pay.
Last year, the average school administrator earned more than $108,000, about 4 percent higher than two years earlier. That was less than the increase in the average teacher salary, which rose by 6 percent over the prior two years.
Part of the reason is that the superintendent salary cap only took effect in early 2011 and does not influence a contract that was already in force when it was enacted. Another is that it affects only those at the very top of the district’s organizational chart, although it is thought that as the minimum salary cascaded like a wave up through the ranks, boosting the salaries of all teachers, the cap will trickle down into lower levels of administration over time and wind up reducing the pay of lower level administrators.
But it seems the salary cap, as well as other ceilings placed on the number of sick days an administrator can accrue and be paid for, have caused many to retire or flee the state—for instance, J. Thomas Morton, of Sparta, just took a job in Clarkstown, N.Y. The average years of experience for administrators dropped in more than a third of districts statewide.
In today’s climate of austerity, not to mention the budget cap, politicians are not about to ask for further salary increases for education employees. The pendulum has clearly swung the other way and public employees in general do not have the kind of support for higher salaries and perks that they used to get from some segments of the taxpaying public.
And rightfully so. New Jersey is still a high-cost state, with housing in the North especially onerous, but a mid-career educator is receiving a fair salary in most places, particularly given teachers have the ability to earn extra cash over the summer if they choose.
As salary talks on new contracts begin, or continue, in many places, the teachers unions need to keep in mind where they were a quarter century ago, how far they have come, the still poor state of the economy and how lucky they are to have jobs—with the protection of tenure—paying a decent wage when almost 1 in 10 New Jerseyans is out of work.
Average school salaries
The average administrator and teacher salaries for 2010-11 and the change from 2008-09. These districts are in the Patch coverage areas in Morris, Somerset and Sussex counties.
Two-year percentage change
Average teacher salary Two-year percentage change Morris Butler Boro $126,027 9.4 $65,485 12.6 Morris Chathams $123,235 0.2 $62,810 3.5 Morris Chester Twp $120,037 4.0 $63,838 0.6 Morris Jefferson Twp $119,241 3.0 $56,739 1.0 Morris Kinnelon Boro $128,403 7.1 $74,650 13.6 Morris Madison Boro $131,000 4.4 $67,390 3.2 Morris Mendham Boro $139,157 12.3 $55,140 1.6 Morris Mendham Twp $125,312 6.6 $62,590 6.7 Morris Montville Twp $137,995 13.4 $62,795 21.8 Morris Morris Plains $102,766 -5.4 $56,995 12.0 Morris Morris School District $123,878 4.8 $75,635 9.9 Morris Parsippany-Troy Hills Twp $118,414 5.4 $70,375 19.4 Morris Washington Twp $119,009 -2.9 $65,525 8.2 Morris West Morris Regional $148,300 8.6 $64,885 -4.9 Passaic Bloomingdale Boro $134,885 8.6 $61,535 1.2 Somerset Bernards Twp $119,136 3.5 $59,364 3.1 Somerset Bridgewater-Raritan Reg $133,228 8.3 $62,179 9.4 Somerset Green Brook Twp $125,533 10.7 $51,909 10.5 Somerset Hillsborough Twp $121,672 2.1 $70,520 9.7 Somerset Warren Twp $129,672 1.5 $63,446 1.9 Somerset Watchung Boro $131,610 7.2 $56,300 5.9 Somerset Watchung Hills Regional $123,904 7.0 $67,495 6.5 Sussex Hopatcong $120,621 1.0 $77,540 28.0 Charter Unity Charter School $66,460 -16.3 $46,000 -7.9 Source: Analysis of N.J. Report Card data
Colleen O'Dea is a writer, editor, researcher, data analyst, web page designer and mapper with almost three decades in the news business. Her column appears Mondays.
This column appears on Patch sites serving communities in Morris, Somerset and Sussex counties. Comments below may be by readers of any of those sites.