Newark Teachers Approve Landmark Contract including “Merit Pay”

Almost 62% of Newark teachers support contract

A new day is dawning for public school teachers in general, and Newark public school teachers in particular. In a vote of 1,767 in favor of a new contract with performance based bonuses and 1,088 opposed, Newark became one of the largest teacher unions in the nation to agree upon “performance based bonuses.”

The teachers were heroic to vote for this,” said Joseph Del Grosso, the president of the 4,700-member Newark Teachers Union. “It’s certainly something different, it’s something new. But I’m of the opinion that teachers have to take control of their own profession, their own destiny” [via NY Times].

How does merit pay work?

The contract uses the new four-tier teacher rating system being ushered in across the state. It includes a 13.9 percent salary increase over three years for those rated “effective,” with additional merit bonuses for those rated “highly effective.” Teachers who are rated as highly effective, who work in one of the city’s lowest-performing schools and who teach a hard-to-staff subject, could earn as much as $12,500 per year in incentive pay.

Teachers would also have a say in the review process.

The contract will cost the district $100 million, half of which will come from private donors, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It also includes retroactive pay; the union had been working without a contract for two years.”

School Boards across New Jersey will be very busy in the upcoming year getting ready for all the new changes [See TEACHNJ Act].

Pro and con

Kerry Beese, a master teacher who works with preschool teachers, said she voted for the contract even though it does not include a provision for master teachers to earn merit pay.

“I’m not happy with it, but with the economy, it’s probably the best we can get,” she said.

Teacher aide Myrna Aviles, who works at Barringer High School, said she also supported it. “The contract right now is what we have,” she said.

Laura Ferreira, a third grade teacher, said she believes merit bonuses will be impossible to attain and the contract will set a bad precedent. “It’s going to be so difficult you’re never going to see the bonuses,” she said.

Special education teacher Erica Green agreed. “It’s going to be hard as heck to attain ‘effective,’ ” she said. “And I’ve been a teacher for 14 years. A hardworking teacher.”

The American Federation of Teachers, the Newark union’s national affiliate, praised the contract.

“This agreement ensures that teacher voice, quality and experience are aligned with increased professionalism and better compensation,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

Commentary

I understand the argument against merit pay and the counter-argument about the benefits of performance bases bonuses for teachers. Why is it bad to foster competition between teachers to be the best they can be? Politics? If a business has two employees, there’s politics. There are bad teachers just as there are bad employees, bad lawyers, bad doctors, and bad CEO’s. Your title and earnings shouldn’t come automatically. Work for it!

Our kids deserve the best from the best.

UPDATE: Newark Teachers Contract Subject to NY Times Editorial on November 16, 2012

Newark and its teachers’ union deserve praise for the groundbreaking contract that the two sides have hammered out. The relatively calm negotiations that led up to the union’s ratification vote this week stood in sharp contrast to the vitriol that surrounded a similar agreement earlier this year in Chicago that led to a polarizing strike.

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