Bridgewater School Talks Also Stuck on Salary, Work Rules
Some issues may have parallels in local negotiations.
As township school officials and teachers await word from a state-appointed fact finder, and high school negotiators prepare for a second meeting with a mediator next week, their counterparts in nearby districts are also mired in talks.
The Bridgewater-Raritan school district, which operates all schools in Bridgewater and Raritan, has also been in protracted negotiations with its education association. And unlike Warren and Watchung Regional negotiators, the board of education and association representatives have been public about some of the details separating negotiators—which may be instructive for local residents following the talks.
Although there are many issues besides salary ranges at stake in all of the districts, salary cuts to the core is the biggest fly in any contract negotiation oinment. And according to Bridgewater-Raritan Board of Education President Evan Lerner, the district's education association is seeking annual increases of 2.5 percent for each of the contract's three years.
The board has responded with offers of 1 percent, 2 percent and 2 percent increases.
Education associations will sometimes seek to narrow any gaps in salary ranges between nearby districts, which can push up increase requests, but it appears the salaries in all three districts are comparable: Warren's average salary in 2010 was $66,429, while Bridgewater-Raritan's average was $66,969 (and includes the higher paid and frequently higher-educated high school teachers). Watchung Hills Regional's average salary was $71,965.
In its response to Lerner's statements, the BREA did not challenge the salary numbers, and cited other aspects of the negotiations which are also at issue, including additional instructional time and contributions towards health care costs above the newly-mandated amounts included in last year's pension and benefits reform legislation.
The Bridgewater educators also included a switch to the state health plan as part of their offer, a cost-cutting move the Warren Township Board of Education imposed last year.
Talks are dragging on in many contract negotiations across the state—according to the New Jersey School Boards Association, there are 138 districts in the state negotiating over expired contracts, including 32 which, like Warren Township, had contracts expiring June 30, 2010. That's down from 208 in August, and out of 223 districts with contracts expiring at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.