Newark teachers say 'yes' to new contract with performance-based raises

By Karen Yi | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
on May 11, 2017

NEWARK -- The city's public school teachers Thursday overwhelmingly approved a new four-year contract with the district that continues to tie salary increases to classroom performance. 

Five years ago, the teachers union and the district agreed in a landmark contract to base teacher pay on performance, a departure from automatically increasing pay for every year of experience.

It was the first such contract to be ratified in the state and covered Newark's nearly 4,000 teachers, clerks and aides.

The new agreement -- approved by 86 percent of union members who voted -- gives clerks, aides and full-time teachers who earn effective or highly-effective ratings an average salary increase of 2.43 percent from 2015 to 2019.

That means for 2015-16, they will receive a retroactive 1 percent annual wage increase, a 2.8 percent increase this year, a 2.95 percent increase in 2017-18 and a 2.95 percent increase in 2018-19. 

Teachers who earn a "highly effective" rating will also receive a $5,000 bonus. Those bonuses are non-pensionable. 

Per diem teacher aides will earn $15 an hour by 2018-19. Next year, per diem aides will receive a 50 cent hourly increase and another 50 cent increase in 2018-19.

"We are proud to see our members' hard work and commitment to Newark's students recognized with pay raises to help them catch up after years of state-imposed austerity and increased health insurance costs," Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon said.

"We always wish we could get better for teachers who have given so much to the children in so many ways and continue to advocate for the best possible learning conditions in their schools including a return to full local control of Newark Public Schools," Abeigon said.

Teachers have been working without a contract since 2015. District officials said retroactive pay increases and this year's salary increase will be paid by July. 

"I think this contract is great for teachers, it's great for the district and most importantly it's great for the students we all serve," Schools Superintendent Christopher Cerf said. 

Due to budget constraints, the deal eliminates additional pay for highly effective teachers who work in low-performing schools or hard-to-staff subjects.

"These are all public dollars, there's no philanthropic dollars," Cerf said. The 2012 contract included donated funds from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

More prep time, benefit changes

K-8 teachers will receive an additional prep period for a total of four prep periods a week.

"In the old days, there was the false impression that elementary school teachers did not need time for lesson planning and that they merely deliver standardized curriculums," Michael Iovino, a history teacher at Technology High School, said. "Our teachers know their students best and time to plan customized lessons for them is as critical in elementary school as it is for those of us in the high schools."

Once a month, students across the district will also be dismissed early to give teachers time for professional development. 

Teachers will receive more personal days in exchange for fewer sick days that require a medical reason. They will have a total of 17 days, instead of 18 days off during the school year. 

Teachers will also work 188 days, down from 191 days and be given an additional four days prior to the school year to prepare and train. The school year will be 182 days next year, down from 185 days, but the schools will still exceed state requirements that mandate 180 days of instruction.

The 33 schools that have extended school days will keep the longer days. Teachers can vote by majority to extend the day on their campus or schools may be designated a "turnaround" school by the district to get longer hours.

The district is also creating a pool of per-diem professionals who can provide counseling, speech therapy and physical therapy for students with special needs. The pool of professionals will replace outside private service providers and help the district cut costs. 

"It is all very important that we all keep our eyes on why we go to work everyday, there are a lot of values that are served by public education and they're all important but all of them have to be subordinate to our central goal of giving every child an equal opportunity for a successful launch into adulthood," Cerf said. "When we keep our eye on the ball, we care about how effective we are."

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