Newark Teachers Union Approves Landmark Contract Offering Merit Pay Bonuses

November 14, 2012

NEWARK — The 4,700-member Newark Teachers Union approved the state’s first teacher contract that offers bonuses based on classroom performance.

The three-year pact, which will award merit pay to teachers who earn ratings of "highly effective," was approved by a vote of 1767 to 1088 after a day in which educators lined up at union headquarters to cast ballots.

The contract would be the first in the state, and one of the first in the nation, to base teacher pay on classroom performance, including student progress.

On Wednesday, a steady flow of teachers, teacher’s aides and other union members lined up at the storefront union offices on Broad Street to vote on the contract. A big rush came at about 3:15 p.m., after school ended for the day. Lines formed at the four voting machines.

The contract uses the new four-tier teacher rating system that is being ushered in across the state. It includes a 13.9 percent salary increase over three years for those who are rated "effective," with additional merit bonuses on top of that for those rated "highly effective."

Teachers who are "highly effective," who work in one of the city’s lowest-performing schools, and who teach a difficult-to-staff subject, could earn as much as $12,500 per year.

The contract will cost $100 million, half of which would come from private donors, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The contract also includes two years of retroactive pay raises, because the union has worked without a contract for two years.

Opinion on the pact was split.

Kerry Beese, a master teacher who works with preschool teachers, voted for it grudgingly, because she said 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’s aide Myrna Aviles, who works at Barringer High School, said she also supported it. "The contract right now is what we have," she said.

But many voted against it.

Laura Ferreira, a third grade teachers at South Street School, said she believes merit bonuses will be impossible to attain, and the contract would set a bad precedent for the state. "It’s going to be so difficult you’re never going to see the bonuses," she said.

Special education teacher Erica Green said she also voted "no."

"It’s going to be hard as heck to attain effective," she said. "And I’ve been a teacher for 14 years. A hard-working teacher.”