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Starting Teacher Salaries Prompts Debate Among Brick School Officials

Brick Township Board of Education/Schools (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Brick Township Board of Education/Schools (Photo: Daniel Nee)

When the Brick school district hires new teachers, should officials negotiate starting salaries, or should they be automatically hired at a higher salary based on a greater breadth of experience?

Brick’s starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree this school year is $52,380, plus a health benefits package. From there, raises are divided into 20 additional steps, maxing out at $90,010 for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and $94,985 for a teacher with a doctoral degree.

The debate in Brick has been whether or not new teachers hired by the district should be automatically hired at a more advanced step. A lengthy, and sometimes heated, discussion on the matter occurred when Interim Superintendent Thomas Gialanella recommended the hiring of a new physical education teacher at Brick Memorial High School at step three in the salary guide.

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Board member Karyn Cusanelli asked Gialanella if he had first offered the new teacher the step one salary, to which Gialanella said he did not, stating that he offered the third step from the beginning because he believed the teacher’s background merited the higher salary.

“I thought we were here to improve education, not get the cheapest education,” said Gialanella.

Cusanelli, however, called the starting salary and benefits package fair, and added that hiring new staff members at higher starting salaries was concerning given the district’s decision to lay off teachers for the 2016-17 school year and raise school taxes 3.5 percent.

“It’s a great district to work in, and I think that to come out of college and make almost $52,000 a year plus benefits in a nice district – I don’t see anything wrong with that,” said Cusanelli.

Larry Reid, a former board member, echoed Cusanelli’s opinion.

“These are the kinds of things, when you have a lot of extra money in the budget, you can be very generous,” he said. “But when we have a 3.5 percent increase, you’re not being considerate of the taxpayers.”

Gialanella defended the practice, stating that teachers who want to work in the Brick district sometimes come from wealthier districts in North Jersey and elsewhere that have higher salaries. The physical education teacher in question, he said, took a pay cut to come to Brick because he was an alumnus of the district.

“Can you get teachers to work for the cheapest? Absolutely,” he said. “Are you going to get the best teachers? No.”

Board President John Lamela, a school administrator in Jackson, described the Brick teachers’ salary guide as “one of the weakest I’ve seen,” and said after “we train ’em,” they move to other districts.

A survey of local school district pay scales, however, showed the median teacher salary in Brick last year – $66,160 – was higher than the Toms River Regional ($62,431), Jackson ($61,432), Point Pleasant Borough ($61,385), Point Pleasant Beach ($64,269) Lavallette ($64,073) and Lacey Township ($51,761) districts.

According to data from the New Jersey Education Association, Brick’s starting pay for the 2016-17 school year is higher than Toms River Regional ($51,550), Jackson ($51,282), Lavallette ($51,000) Lacey (below $50,000) and several other local districts. Southern Regional, Little Egg Harbor and Bay Head had starting salaries higher than Brick.

Lamela said at the meeting that the goal for the district should be to “bring in the best” and put them in the classroom.

The Brick Township BOE salary guide for teachers for the 2016-17 school year. (Credit: NJ PERC)

The Brick Township BOE salary guide for teachers for the 2016-17 school year. (Credit: NJ PERC)