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Approved Newark Teachers' Contract Creates Two-Tiered Salary Schedule

Newark's teaching force has approved a three-year contract that creates a second salary schedule offering the opportunity for performance bonuses. The agreement also adds a peer-review piece to the evaluation process.

62 percent of votes cast were in favor of the deal.

A vote to ratify the deal was originally to be held Oct. 29, but got delayed due to Hurricane Sandy and resulting relief efforts.

The contract got much attention in New Jersey, partly because it was viewed as a departure in a state where bonus pay has largely been anathema to unions. It also seemed like a new page for Newark Federation of Teachers President Joseph Del Grosso, a veteran union leader profiled in this editorial. (NFT is an American Federation of Teachers affiliate; most of the state's other teachers belong to the National Education Association.)

In a nutshell, the agreement:

• Creates a "universal" salary schedule that eliminates salary differentials for credentials. The schedule puts more money into early-career raises, and under it teachers can win bonuses of up to $12,500 for teaching in low-performing schools, in high-needs subjects, and for superior performance. They'll apparently be paid for by philanthropic support from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. New teachers and those holding bachelor's degrees will be automatically enrolled in the "universal" salary scale; all others can opt to join it or stay on a traditional scale.
• Awards teachers on the universal scale one-time stipends of up to $20,000 for completing a district-approved program of study reflecting district goals or training for the Common Core state standards.
• Grants teachers on both scales "step" increases for earning satisfactory teacher-evaluation scores;
• Eliminates "lane" increases for degrees, replacing them with a;
• Creates a joint union/management panel to oversee development of the district's teacher-evaluation system;
• Establishes school improvement councils, including a teacher representative, in each school, which are responsible for professional development and evaluating teachers;
• Creates a system of "peer validators," who will act as a third-party check on evaluation decisions for teachers who received low ratings on prior evaluations.

Though it's being billed as a "landmark" and "groundbreaking" contract, the details leave a lot of questions open, foremost among them exactly how the new evaluation system will work.

AFT President Randi Weingarten praised the contract, comparing it to similarly structured agreements that AFT affiliates have inked in places like New Haven, Conn., and Baltimore.

"This agreement ensures that teacher voice, quality and experience are aligned with increased professionalism and better compensation. The contract integrates what teachers do, where they teach, and the experience they've gained in the classroom," she said in a statement.

Critics of the contract included the members of a new political "caucus" or party within the NFT. Called the New Caucus, the group has posted a number of documents that pick apart aspects of the contract (prepare yourself for a lot of exclamation points). In general, the group says that the contract doesn't address social-justice concerns, paves the way for more school shakeups, and compensates teachers less than they'd have gotten under the old salary schedule.

The New Caucus seems modeled on the rise of similar groups, such as the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators in Chicago, from which emerged Karen Lewis, the hard-charging president of the Chicago Teachers' Union; and the the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, a similar one in New York City.

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