Column: Data Shows Average Teacher Makes $60K

School pay has risen dramatically since the push 25 years ago for a minimum teacher salary.

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.

County District Average administrator salary 
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.

Simon Says June 22, 2012 at 06:28 AM
You seem to have a gross misunderstanding of the type of arduous work and effort that goes into teaching. You're only considering the amount of hours they spend at school, but teachers constantly have to take their work home with them; they work nights and weekends, grading papers and planning lessons. They deal with far more than academic issues and many serve as second parents for our children. Teachers can only hope to make 60,000k/year after having attained an advanced degree in education. The average starting salary for a teacher with a master's degree is around 40,000; in what other field is this acceptable? What other job requires so much patience, effort, and out-of-office time commitments. Keep in mind that most teachers make far below 60k, and teachers who make over that much have been teaching for many, many years. I know many teachers who work second jobs to make ends meet. And there is absolutely no prestige left in teaching; just look at what you are saying about them.
Simon Says June 22, 2012 at 06:33 AM
@ living the dream: I do not know ANY teachers who have had their Master's degree paid for them. Even if this were true, you seem to overlook the fact that teachers attain advanced degrees in their field to benefit OUR KIDS, to learn how to teach OUR KIDS better. Why don't you try teaching for a day and see how you like it? It's one of the most difficult jobs in the world.
Simon Says June 22, 2012 at 06:43 AM
@paul: I'm not sure where you are getting your facts from. Teachers work far more than the average 40 hour work week, and they get zero respect from people like you. After working in the field for twenty years, educators only make around 70,000. This is simply not replicated in any other field, and attitudes like yours perpetuate the hostility and disrespect shown toward teachers nationally by politicians and the public alike. And standardized testing is a severely flawed way of assessing students' understanding; the test measures one's understandings of cultural concepts and test-taking skills, not actual content that is needed to be a productive, knowledgeable member of society. So the students who under-perform are usually students with disabilities and English Language Learners. How would standardized testing meet these students' needs? Just look at no child left behind; the lack of progress as a result of shifting the focus of education on to teacher accountability and high-stakes testing is laughable. Value-added assessment also has up to a 50& margin of error; it's not even a reliable way of assessing teachers. Clearly, you do not know anything about education or educators and precisely represent the decline of the quality of public education in this country.
Simon Says June 22, 2012 at 06:50 AM
your ignorance about the teaching profession is blinding. High-priced baby sitters?? That is insulting. Teaching is one of the toughest jobs in the world. They work far more than 180 days and forty hours a week, spending all of their free time lesson planning, grading papers, dealing with parents, attending professional development seminars, taking on extra classes for further certification that they pay for out of their own pocket. And yet, they are met with disrespect from people like you.
Simon Says June 22, 2012 at 06:58 AM
@ brian: Your ignorance about the teaching profession is astounding. Do you know anything about teaching? You have a different class every year, different students with different needs who move at a different pace, who are not responsive to the same type of teaching techniques, or the same lesson plans. Your district might approve of another curriculum. You might get moved to up or down to another grade level. i don't know ANY teachers who simply reuse their lesson plans every year or any who are, as you so insultingly put it, "lazy." You are grossly mistaken. Try teaching for a day, and tell us how you like it.


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