New Pact in Paterson Gives Teachers Extra Pay Tied to Their Performance

John Mooney | August 15, 2014 | Education
Contract includes salary ‘steps’ tied to school district’s evaluation system

In a deal that finally breaks a four-year stalemate, a new contract for teachers in the state-run Paterson schools includes a version of pay-for-performance that will be a first for New Jersey.

The salary guide for all new teachers and included in the three-year contract made final last month will include an extra annual “step,” or pay increment, that can be earned by teachers rated “highly effective” under the district’s evaluation system. The steps are typically tied only to an additional year of service.

Teachers rated “effective” will get a single step, and “highly effective” a second step. Teachers rated either “partially effective” or “ineffective” will get no raise at all. Veteran teachers will have the option of joining the new guide or staying with a traditional guide without the incentives.

“Obviously, pay for performance is on everyone’s agenda these days, including ours’,” said Donnie Evans, the district’s state-appointed superintendent. “After a lot of input, we felt doing it in the guide facilitated that better.”

“We wanted to reward teachers by performance, rather than seat time,” he said in an interview.

The settlement is the second such performance pay negotiated by the Christie administration in its state-run districts, with Newark being the first. But in Newark, the contract that runs through this coming school year provides one-time bonuses for “highly effective,” instead of the salary guide bumps.

That was more amenable to the Paterson Education Association (PEA), the teachers union, as the sides tried to break an impasse that had seen talks drag on four years, Evans said it was largely stalled over the performance-linked pay, and what he said was a “disagreement in philosophy.”

The settlement this spring and tightly contested membership vote this summer were actually over two contracts — one covering the previous four years, with $19 million in retroactive pay, and the new one for the next three years.

The New Jersey Education Association, the statewide union which counts Paterson among its largest locals, had opposed the Newark contract as a form of merit pay, which is anathema to the union.

Newark teachers are represented by the Newark Teachers Union, part of the separate American Federation of Teachers and unaffiliated with the NJEA.

While acknowledging the Paterson deal also can be viewed as merit pay, a NJEA spokesman said retaining the salary guide was important.

“We resisted the Newark approach because PEA wanted to preserve the integrity of the salary guide,” said Steve Baker, the spokesman. “All teachers, even those rated highly effective, would be paid according to a clear, transparent guide ultimately based on years of experience, not merit.”

“So, while it is not necessarily a typical (contract), it helped preserve, rather than replace, the salary guide approach,” he said.

Efforts to contact Pete Tirri, the PEA president, were unsuccessful. Baker of the NJEA said Tirri was not granting interviews on the topic.

State officials were at the table with the district’s negotiators, including assistant state education commissioner Peter Shulman and special assistant Photeine Anagnostopoulos.

Shulman relayed the administration’s final approval of the contract on July 21 in a note to Tirri.

“Thank you and your team for their patience and perseverance throughout the negotiation process,” Shulman wrote.

Under the new contract, the guide will not be required for current teachers, who can opt to stay on a more traditional guide. All newly hired teachers will be put on the new guide. Teachers are currently making those decisions in a 30-day sign-up period, which will be binding for the life of the contract.

How much the extra step will earn individual teachers is still being determined, as the sides negotiate the intricacies of both the new and traditional guides, according to Evans.

In typical salary guides, the differences between steps vary widely, but can go as high as $10,000 or more in so-called “balloon steps.”

Evans did not have a breakdown of how many teachers this could effect, with evaluations still being finalized for the district’s 2,600 teachers. But he said about 10 percent so far had been found to be “ineffective” or “partially effective,” which would exclude them from a raise this year under the new guide.

The new guide also excludes an extra pay adjustment for gaining an advanced degree once on the job, a long-time staple of salary guides. A teacher’s existing degrees will be considered only in deciding where they are initially placed on the guide, Evans said.

“We think that the experience and the additional coursework is important and a plus,” he said. “But once they are on the guide, they’re on it and any movement will be based on performance.”

The contract also includes provisions for additional pay of up to $1,500 for hard-to-fill positions or for teachers working in designated “turnaround schools” that are the district’s lowest performing.