The kids are headed back to class over the next week, but contract negotiations remain unresolved in at least 20 percent of New Jersey's school districts, according to initial figures from the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Teacher instructing class
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It's estimated that negotiations over teacher contracts are continuing in 130 to 135 districts. Finalized numbers are expected after Labor Day.

Seeing this many districts still at the bargaining table in early September isn't that unusual, according to NJSBA Deputy Executive Director Frank Belluscio. The group is used to seeing more than 150 districts without an agreement heading into the next academic year.

"Normally most of these districts will see settlements throughout the fall," Belluscio told New Jersey 101.5.

Teachers never actually work without a contract, he noted. If a new agreement isn't reached, the old one remains in effect, guaranteeing teachers the same salary, benefits and protections that the previous contract provided.

In a "deadlock" situation, the school board and union can call on the state to mediate the dispute, Belluscio said.

Around this time each year, the association says contract standstills should be no cause for concern among parents.

"Schools will open and the education process will go forward," Belluscio said.

The average public school teacher in New Jersey will receive a pay jump of 2.6 percent, Belluscio added. But negotiations over benefits, he said, are also a big piece of the puzzle.

The state teachers union, meanwhile, is fighting Gov. Chris Christie's administration in court over setting pensioners' benefit rates. Christie wants to reduce benefits to save $250 million. The New Jersey Education Association is opposed.

A Superior Court judge sitting in Trenton ordered the union to appear in court to explain why it skipped meetings to help determine public health benefits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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