Newark Teacher Contract Isn’t Just About Performance Bonuses

John Mooney | November 13, 2012 | Education
Pact scheduled for ratification vote Wednesday includes rules for evaluations, advanced degrees

Three weeks since it was announced, a new and potentially historic labor agreement between Newark public schools and their teachers union will finally go to a ratification vote tomorrow.

Since the agreement was unveiled on Oct. 18, much of the attention has gone to plans for new performance bonuses for exceptional teachers, as well as sizable raises for everyone else. There are provisions for teacher evaluations and a peer-review process for determining the evaluations.

But with the vote delayed two weeks by Hurricane Sandy and closing of the city’s schools, a number of other provisions have also emerged as intriguing and perhaps even groundbreaking. Here’s a few of them:

Roll the videotape, but only so far

It’s all of a couple of sentences in the contract, but they point to what will likely be one of the bigger debates in the future of teacher evaluation: the use of videotape.

The contract calls for use of videotape of teachers in the classroom to provide coaching and support, all with the teacher’s consent. But the contract states explicitly that video “shall not be used for any evaluative or disciplinary purposes.”

That’s a key distinction, as a number of new classrooms observation tools being tested nationwide, including New Jersey, use videotape as a key evaluative tool.

Newark Teachers Union President Joseph Del Grosso said yesterday that he recognized the value of using videotape to put a mirror up for teachers to see themselves at work. But it has limits, he said, and using it to catch teachers when they may not realize they are being watched was a worry for the union.

“We didn’t want to go to the point of evaluation at this point in time,” he said. “Technology has its good side and its bad.”

Teacher power and flexibility

The contract maintains many of the traditional rules pertaining to length of school day, teacher workload and other duties. But, in a first for the district, it will also include a way for an individual school’s faculty to waive those rules under unique circumstances.

Under the provision, a quarter of the schools’ staff may request a vote to waive any provision in the contract except salary, benefits and grievance procedures. For the waiver to pass, a majority of the staff then must approve through a secret ballot. The final say will by agreement of the principal, superintendent and NTU president.

The flexibility was central for Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, who has sought to bring changes to the district, one school at a time. The contract also includes separate agreements for the lowest performing schools, so-called “turnaround schools,” to have a number of their own innovations, including a longer school day for extra stipends of as much as $3,000 per staff.

The waiver process would apply to those schools as well, DelGrosso said. But he agreed some flexibility and the power of teachers to trigger changes would serve well both the administration and his members.

New way to pay for college

It’s long been one of management’s sore points with teacher salary guides – that teachers are paid specific salaries not just based on their years of experience but also on their advanced degrees, with higher salaries depending on whether a teacher has earned a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree.

The Christie administration has sought to do away with automatic raises for academic credentials and instead focus on actual teacher skills and classroom results.

If this contract is ratified, the administration will get part of its wish, but not without a concession to the NTU and its national leadership in the American Federation of Teachers, led by President Randi Weingarten.

Under the new contract, Newark teachers would be under two salary guides: one for new teachers and those with bachelor’s degrees, all of whom would be eligible for the performance bonuses of up to $12,500. Those with advanced degrees could opt to be part of that guide, or they could stay on their own guide that would not be eligible for the bonuses.

But the concession came in how both guides would deal with teachers gaining additional degrees. Instead of paying a teacher on a different scale, those gaining a degree would be paid a lump sum of $10,000 upon completion of the program, and another $10,000 after they stayed in the district three years.

The win for the administration is it would have to approve of the degree-granting program as being in line with district priorities and standards.

Weingarten, who sat in the negotiations, said afterward that the win for the union was that it would provide members immediate help with tuition and student loans.