The annual state Taxpayers Guide to Education Spending is out, and as usual, it’s a tale of woe for many local residents.
Teachers don’t like having their lavish salaries publicized, and the taxpayers paying them remain upset and frustrated that each year the excessive bill just gets higher.
This year, though, there’s actually a chance the self-rewarding collusion between elected officials and the teachers union might start to come under enough pressure to bring about change.
The headline numbers would be jaw-dropping if they weren’t so familiar and dispiriting. Of the 10 New Jersey school districts that pay teachers the most, four are in South Jersey. And in several others, teacher pay isn’t that far behind those four.
Margate teachers get $91,045 for 10 months of work, and since that’s the median, half of them get more than that. That’s the fourth-highest teacher pay rate in the state.
Behind them in the state’s 10 highest are Brigantine at $89,900, Ocean City at $89,036 and Atlantic City at $88,318. Pay in several other area districts is right behind them, and even Buena and Lower Cape May regional schools are paying north of $81,000.
Odd that many South Jersey residents, whose incomes are so much lower than their counterparts in North Jersey, are paying their teachers more than in so many districts in the wealthier north. It’s not as if the people in this region have a lot of money to spare and might as well throw it at the school systems.
Nor would anyone claim that paying some of the highest teacher salaries in the state results in some of the best-performing schools in the state. Schools in North Jersey routinely outperform schools in South Jersey.
The education establishment, as usual, offers some explanations. A favorite is that area teachers are so highly paid because they’ve had the job for so long — an average of 20 years, one superintendent said.
This must grate on taxpayers even more, since it reminds them of how the deal between politicians and unions results in overpaid teachers. Unlike private sector workers, government workers such as teachers get negotiated raises and automatic step increases whether they’re doing a good job or not. In some districts, teachers also get longevity increases on top of that, just for staying on in a job they don’t even have to do well to keep.
Even in the rare instance where a nearly bankrupt municipality must cut some staff, the union bars administrators from laying off the worst teachers and requires keeping those with the most longevity and pay.
Of the 20 lowest-paying districts in the state, all but one are charter schools, which operate with less money. They are nonunion, and salaries range from $42,000 to $48,000, closer to what the market would pay for good teachers without elected officials and their public union allies pushing up the cost.
This being another Legislature election year, the teachers union will again provide the money and campaign muscle to ensure the election of officials who will keep excessively rewarding them (and remember, lavish benefits and pensions are on top of the high salaries).
But trouble for this cozy conspiracy might be brewing at the national level.
Higher-income taxpayers don’t feel the full brunt of teacher costs in New Jersey. They deduct the property taxes funding schools from their federal income tax, in effect getting a rebate on their school bills.
The Trump administration has proposed, as a key part of its tax-reform package, to end the deduction for state taxes on federal income tax returns. It sees the deduction as encouraging states to spend too much and pass some of the cost onto taxpayers nationwide.
If the wealthier taxpayers filing Schedule A with their federal returns start to feel the pain as directly as the average taxpayer, support for school reform could get a lot stronger.