Kean Signs Law Setting Base Salary for N.J. Teachers
Hours after the state Senate voted its approval of the measure, Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey last week signed into law a bill that ensures the state's public-school teachers a minimum salary of $18,500 and sets up a statewide teacher-recognition program.
The new legislation gives New Jersey teachers one of the highest minimum salaries in the nation, according to officials at several national education organizations.
The measure, which is effective immediately and retroactive to the beginning of this school year, provides for three years of state funding to districts to make up the difference between teachers' 1984-85 salary levels and the $18,500 minimum.
The amount of continued state funding after three years will depend on the findings of a commission that is currently reviewing the state's entire system of expenditures and revenues, according to education department officials.
As part of its final action on the minimum-salary measure, the legislature appropriated $37.7 million to pay for the first year of the program. Another $2.2 million to fund the teacher-recognition bill had been included in the state's fiscal 1986 budget, which was adopted in June.
Education department officials and teachers both applauded the new measures.
"I think it's going to make a significant contribution not only to retaining teachers but to attracting qualified new teachers," said Walter J. McCarroll, assistant commissioner for county and regional services in the state education department. With the anticipated nationwide teacher shortage, Mr. McCarroll said, "the key is to restore the attractiveness, one way or another," of the teaching profession.
Members of the New Jersey Education Association, which represents some 83,000 of the state's approximately 93,000 teaching-staff members, are "absolutely delighted" with the minimum-salary legislation, said Kathy Gallaher, an njea spokesman.
"We see it as an excellent opportunity to make the teaching profession more attractive, not only to young people, but also to people who were already in the classroom," she said.
Increasing the minimum-salary level, she noted, will "have a positive effect across the board" in raising all teacher salaries, although that is "going to take some time."
The average starting salary for the state's teachers in 1984-85 was $14,900, and the average salary for all teachers is approximately $25,000, according to Jeanne Oswald, policy coordinator in the education department's office of legislative services.
The 'Ripple Effect'
Among those less than pleased with the new law is the New Jersey School Boards Association, whose members had lobbied against the minimum-salary measure. The group is concerned about the effect of the legislation on teachers at the higher end of the pay scale.
A "ripple effect" of requests for sal-ary increases from those teachers could cost the state's 611 school boards a total of between $50 million and $150 million in the first year of the program, according to Frank Belluscio, an njsba spokesman.
"The state will take care of the teachers at the lower end of the scale," he said. "But what do we do with the other two-thirds who are already above $18,500?"
The njsba does not oppose higher salaries for teachers, Mr. Belluscio said. "It's just that we thought that the plan should be better thought out."
The school boards' group also fears that the new law will lead to calls from teachers for reopening already-negotiated salary contracts for the current school year, he said--a fear that Ms. Gallaher agreed could be justified.
Approximately 240 of the njea- affiliated districts negotiated contracts for the current school year, according to Ms. Gallaher. About 100 of those districts have not yet settled, and of the 140 that did settle, "many" have contract provisions stating that if the minimum-salary law passed, contract negotiations could reopen.
The salary plan evolved out of months of debate between the Governor and the legislature over the measure's final form. The bill Governor Kean signed Sept. 9 was hammered out after he conditionally vetoed an earlier version passed by the legislature in June.
The earlier bill, which itself had been modified, called for state aid to districts to fund the minimum-salary measure indefinitely. The Governor had asked for a time limit on the state's support, which the new law contains.
An earlier version had also contained an escalator clause, which would have increased the minimum level as the state's cost-of-living in-dex rose. The new law contains no escalator clause.
The teacher-recognition program also underwent several revisions before Governor Kean and the legislators reached agreement.
In its final form, the measure rewards one teacher chosen from each school in participating districts with $1,000, to be used by that teacher for instructional purposes in his or her school. Previous versions of the measure had allowed districts to choose an unlimited number of teachers, and had awarded cash bonuses of $500 directly to the teacher, with no stipulations as to use.
The Governor had objected to the version that contained no maximum level of teachers to be selected, arguing that such a system would not reward the truly superior teachers.inued on Page XX
Minimum-Salary Law Enacted in New Jersey
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The njea had objected to the cash award to teachers, calling it a form of merit bonus that would be divisive.
Protecting The Taxpayer
Assemblyman Joseph Doria, a Democrat, introduced the original version of the minimum-salary legislation. He described the final version of the bill, designed by the Republican Governor, as "a compromise that everyone can live with."
"We are still protecting the local-property-tax payer," he said. In addition, he said, the measure "reflects the new cost of living."
The debate in New Jersey over the teacher salary and recognition legislation came during a year in which not only the Governor's job, but all seats in the state legislature will be contested in the November election.
Governor Kean called the legislature back for a special session Aug. 28 to act on the teacher-salary bill and other measures left undecided when the lawmakers adjourned in June for their summer recess. The Assembly approved the measure that day, but the Senate frustrated the Governor's efforts to sign the law before the start of school by with4holding its approval until the legislature reconvened as scheduled Sept. 9.
Record Education Increase
Before its June adjournment, the lawmakers passed an $8.8-billion fiscal 1986 budget. The $2.7 billion education segment contains the largest single increase in education aid since the state's "thorough and efficient" equalization-aid statute became ef-8fective in 1974, according to education department officials.
The 1986 budget, which went into effect July 1, also marks the first year of full state funding of those education statutes, the department's Ms. Oswald said.
The 1986 education budget represents a 10 percent, or $240-million, increase over the 1985 level. Equalization aid to the 592 districts totals $1.3 billion this year, up $102 million.