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Facebook Donation to Pay for Newark Teacher Performance Bonuses

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Newark, N.J., schools reached a tentative contract agreement with its teachers' union today, and one of the contract's major features — merit bonuses — will be funded with up to $80 million from a foundation managing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's massive donation to the district.

If ratified, the contract would offer bonuses of up to $12,500 to teachers who transfer into schools that are difficult to staff or educators who are deemed "highly effective" by the teacher evaluation process, said Joseph Del Grosso, the president of the Newark Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, in a phone interview. Those teacher evaluation measures were established in August by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the basis for the evaluations is still being worked out. A new peer review system will also be put in place in Newark and be part of the teacher evaluation system, Del Grosso said. The contract is a tentative agreement between the union, Newark schools, and the state department of education, which controls the district. Union members still must meet to discuss the agreement and will likely vote on it Oct. 29. The last contract expired in 2010.

The merit bonuses will be funded by the Foundation for Newark's Future, the nonprofit organization that raises matching funds for and distributes Zuckerberg's donation. As you may recall, Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to the 37,000-student Newark school district three years ago, with the caveat that dollar-for-dollar matching funds would have to be raised from other sources before Newark could spend the money. About $50 million has been raised so far, putting about $100 million at the district's disposal.

In August, when I last spoke with the foundation's president and CEO, Gregory Taylor, about $16 million had been used in the district, for new schools, a call center for parents, and to help establish an early childhood education program, among other priorities. A spokeswoman for the foundation said it will not comment on the contract before it is ratified by the union.

Using Zuckerberg's donation to fund part of the teachers' contract has been "mutually discussed for a long period of time, back when the money was acquired," Del Grosso said. In the August interview, Taylor outlined the six areas where the money is being spent: early childhood education, out-of-school youth, teacher quality, Common Core State Standards, school options, and community engagement. As of August, the foundation funded $1.9 million in "teacher quality" initiatives, including $500,000 to Teach for America for recruitment and support of members in Newark and a $600,000 teacher innovation fund that awarded $10,000 grants for promising new teacher-initiated programs.

While the exact appropriation for the merit bonuses can't be determined until they are issued, Del Grosso said the foundation's contribution could total around $80 million over the next three years. The district proposed using the foundation's money for the performance bonuses and Del Grosso didn't negotiate directly with the foundation, he said.

"I'm not for being an obstacle to people being paid," he said, referring to the teacher bonuses.

The bonuses would be in addition to, not part of, the teacher's annual salary. Teachers who do not meet performance requirements could be denied their automatic pay raises that are based on experience, though they would be eligible to receive the pay increase if they show improvement, according to the Wall Street Journal. Teachers would receive a one-time bonus for earning an advanced degree, rather than lifetime bumps, the Journal reported. Teachers could also opt to stay with the current pay system, but be eligible for smaller and less frequent bonuses.

According to the Associated Press, Del Grosso and schools Superintendent Cami Anderson are appearing at a Newark elementary school today to sign the contract and hold a press conference.

In a statement, Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie's office said:

"This is a critical milestone for the Newark Public Schools, its teachers and, most importantly, its children. This tentative agreement stands as the first of its kind in New Jersey, establishing a system that rewards teachers based on the achievement and quality they bring into their classrooms and the knowledge and potential they impart to their students. This is a fair contract that increases accountability, stresses performance and above all, puts students first."
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