The merit pay system was helped made possible with a $100 million donation from Mark Zuckerberg.
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — It was hailed as a breakthrough when the bargain was struck: Top-performing teachers in Newark could get bigger paychecks.
The provision in a 2012 contract struck between the state-run school district and the Newark Teachers Union was the first of its kind in New Jersey, and it was made possible because of a massive donation intended to improve education in the city.
But three years later, the contract has expired, and the new president of the local union says that it hasn’t worked and that it’s not a sure thing the teachers union will agree to keep the provision in its current form. Several Newark teachers said that they had real problems with the contract and that the merit pay hasn’t worked, though none were willing to speak on the record for fear of reprisals.
Talks for a deal to replace it haven’t started, and the contract with the merit pay remains in place.
The deal was made possible because of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to education causes in Newark, announced five years ago. His foundation agreed to pay not only for the cost of the merit bonuses, but also for retroactive raises for educators who had worked two years on a previous contract, going without raises for that duration. The total cost to Zuckerberg for the deal was more than $48 million, or nearly half his contribution. While $30 million of the money contributed by Zuckerberg and matching donors is left, it’s not clear whether it will help pay for a new contract.
For advocates for education reform, it was a big deal. Gov. Chris Christie helped hash out the contract.
Those reformers say that teachers should be paid like many people in other industries are, with paychecks reflecting their results rather than just their experience.
Zuckerberg’s foundation hails the contract as a prime example of the contribution making a difference in Newark.
“Lasting change takes time, and there are some strong signs of early progress in Newark, including a dramatic increase in quality school choices and a new teacher’s contract that has led to improved teacher quality and retention. We believe these are key building blocks for sustainable change,” Jen Holleran, executive director of Zuckerberg’s foundation, Startup:Education, said in a statement.
John Abeigon became president of the Newark Teachers Union this year. Abeigon said the merit pay has not lived up to the hopes, or hype. It awarded just under $1.5 million to 233 teachers last year; they received an average of about $6,000 each.
“It’s more a failure than it is a success,” Abeigon said. “In little pockets, it’s a success.”
The problem, he said, is that the system for evaluating teachers – also developed with contributions from Zuckerberg – is flawed, even though district officials praise it.
The contract is still in effect even though it expired in June.
One major reason the union hasn’t asked to start negotiations, he said, is that the parties are waiting on an arbitrator’s ruling on several grievances dealing with the old contract, including on retroactive pay for teachers who retired in 2012 and pay raises for getting advanced degrees. He said that teachers are getting the bumps only if they get new masters or doctoral degrees from one favored school, New York-based Relay Graduate School of Education. The union wants the district to give pay increases to teachers who earn graduate degrees elsewhere, too.
It’s not clear when an arbitrator might rule on that and other grievances.
This time around, the union will be negotiating with superintendent Christopher Cerf, a former state education commissioner who replaced ex-superintendent Cami Anderson in July.
Abeigon says he’s glad about one policy change – Cerf has returned veteran teachers who had been moved out of classrooms back to teaching positions. Because of union rules that provide for layoffs to be based on seniority, Anderson kept teachers on the payroll rather than laying off more recently hired but higher-rated teachers as the school district’s student population shrank. Those teachers were moved to support jobs.
Most are now teaching again.
Cerf, for his part, is frustrated with union officials and their allies for criticizing elements of Zuckerberg’s donation.
“Without this gift, we would not have been able to close the breakthrough collective bargaining agreement,” he said. “Literally, it could not have been funded.”
Via Huffington post