Newark boosts starting teacher pay to $62K to fill staffing gap worsened by pandemic

Published: Jun. 03, 2022

In an effort to plug a years-long teacher shortage aggravated by the Coronavirus pandemic, Newark public schools will boost starting pay by $8,000 this fall, or about 15%, the district and local union announced.

The hike in starting pay to $62,000 a year for rookie teachers in the state’s largest school district is among several pay-related changes intended to attract new teachers and retain veterans.

The union and district renegotiated the pay increases under an existing contract that expires at the end of the 2023-24 school year. Without the increases, starting pay in September would have been $55,469, up from $54,000 in September 2021, according to the union.

Officials said additional changes include raising pay for teachers already in the district to the new starting minimum if they had been making less. All teachers, regardless of their current pay, will get an additional $500 raise for each of the two remaining years of the contract, on top of the 3.5% annual increases originally part of the three-year deal.

Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León issued a statement Thursday calling the agreement “historic.”

“While teacher shortages across the nation have been exacerbated by the global pandemic, we in Newark are leveraging multiple strategies to attract and retain great teachers,” León stated. “These new salaries will attract fresh talent and at the same time foster retention by increasing the salaries of experienced teachers.”

Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon said Friday there were about 500 teaching vacancies in the district. That’s compared to 2,951 positions currently filled, union officials said. They educate a total of just over 35,000 regular public school students.

Newark has another 20,000 students enrolled in charter schools, though their teachers are not paid by the district and are not entitled to the increases announced this week.

Abeigon said the persistent teacher shortfall had meant larger class sizes and greater workloads for teachers, both detrimental to students’ education.

He was confident the pay hikes would help close the staffing gap, particularly with several nearby universities like Montclair State University and Kean University in Union producing education graduates looking for jobs in the fall.

Abeigon cautioned against comparing pay too closely among districts, noting that starting pay and salary ranges for New Jersey teachers are functions of local cost of living and other factors.

That said, the renegotiated pay hikes do appear to boost Newark’s competitiveness significantly, with the new starting pay more than $6,000 higher than the statewide average minimum salary of $55,469 for teachers with a bachelor’s degree in 2021-22, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Abeigon said the $4 million costs of the starting pay hike and other increases would come out of federal American Recovery Act funds earmarked explicitly for pandemic-related teacher recruitment and retention.

The pandemic aggravated the teacher shortage in Newark and other districts, with dramatic changes in the job including demand for new skills required for remote learning and health concerns with the return of in-person classes while the coronavirus and its variants remained in circulation.

But, Abeigon said, the virus highlighted the importance of public schools as a key component of the economy that frees parents to physically go to work or attend to their jobs while working at home.

For Newark, where understaffing had been a problem long before the coronavirus demanded educational and societal changes, Abeigon said a silver lining of the pandemic may be to finally close a persistent pay-related staffing gap that negotiations had failed to address.

“We’ve been having these discussions for several years now,” he said. “The COVID pandemic just brought it to the forefront.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-06-04 02:37:45 -0700