Only one table today, as I continue to try to figure out how elementary and secondary education staffing costs and teacher wages fit into state and local budget concerns in New Jersey. Are certified employee staffing salaries really escalating? Are they outstripping state and local budgets? I really am just trying to find the best measures of this apparent concern. Because state aid to schools is an intergovernmental transfer to local public school districts, certified employees are not a direct state expense and therefore not reported as such. Certified education employees are hired by local public school districts and paid for with a combination of the state aid and local property taxes. As such, it is a bit of a data struggle to figure out how best to tally the total cost of certified public school employees with respect to total state and local expenditures.
Here’s one shot at it. For this table, I use the NJDOE Certified Staffing files to tally the total costs of wages (not benefits) for certified education employees. I then divide the certified staffing wages by a) the total state and local expenditures for the same years and b) the current state and local expenditures for the same years as reported in the Census fiscal surveys (accessed through: http://slfdqs.taxpolicycenter.org/pages.cfm) . The findings are rather interesting – Elementary and Secondary Public School Certified Staffing Salaries have DECLINED as a percent of Total State and Local Expenditures from 1997 to 2007.
Let me be absolutely clear here – It does not always work well to combine such different data sources (individual staffing files on teacher salaries and reported aggregate budget figures). It should, logically – but data realities often thwart logic. One data source should be useful for characterizing the total salary expense on teachers, if, in fact, the data are truly comprehensive and the other should provide a reasonable estimate of total state and local expenditures.
Also, be assured that I understand fully that an alternative issue is whether teacher wages are increasing pressure on local school district budgets, which I do not address here. That is, what is the percent and change in percent of local public school budgets that are going to teacher wages (and benefits)? While an important and relevant question that is not what I am endeavoring to explore here (I address that question here – at the end of the post: https://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/just-the-facts-nj-taxes-teacher-salaries-and-spending-fluff/). Rather, I am exploring whether there is an empirical basis for arguing that salaries of certified public educators are a primary cause of stress to state and local budgets as a whole, in New Jersey. Please read previous posts(and comments sections) for a discussion of benefits.