Four years ago, a landmark contract for Newark public school teachers warranted a public signing and a press conference, complete with Gov. Chris Christie and the national president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The deal was the first in the state with significant performance bonuses for teachers, mostly funded by private money, including the much-ballyhooed $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Fast forward four years and a great deal has changed. After more than a year of negotiating, the long-awaited renewal of that contract — overwhelmingly ratified by the Newark Teachers Union last week — got only a press release from the district and the union.
“No Oprah or Zuckerberg this time,” John Abeigon, the president of the NTU, said yesterday.
Raises on board
Still, there’s some significant movement in this deal. The new contract for the 3,700 teachers and other union members includes raises averaging about 2.4 percent a year, not inconsequential. They range from 1 percent retroactive to last year up to 3.25 percent in the final year.
Most important to the district, performance bonuses have survived for another four years, although not quite as generous as in 2012. This year will see the same maximum boost of $12,500 for the highest-performing teachers, but it will drop to $5,000 next year and maybe not even that much the year after.
“We are pleased to announce this exciting contract with the Newark Teachers Union,” said Superintendent Christopher Cerf in the district’s announcement yesterday. “Thanks to the collaborative spirit between the NTU and the district, we reached an agreement that will help sustain Newark’s forward progress for years to come.”
In addition, the district has also agreed to an additional 30-40 minutes a week to teachers for classroom planning, and boosted time for professional development before the start of the school year from one day to four.
“We think it is a pretty good contract, given the circumstances,” said Abeigon in an interview yesterday. “We’re getting money for everyone.”
Outside forces were a considerable influence. Not in the contract, but certainly central to the union’s thinking was Cerf’s announcement this spring that despite considerable financial pressures, there would be no layoffs of teachers this year.
“That had been a big matter of concern,” Abeigon said.
The fact that there is any collegial talk may be the most striking element of the deal, with appearances at least of relative calm between the district and the union, at least for the moment.
As recently as a year ago, Cerf and Abeigon were frequently at odds — and at the grievance table — as Cerf was first state education commissioner under the 2012 deal and then district superintendent.
But the players in the 2012 agreement have since changed, with controversial former superintendent Cami Anderson now gone and long-time NTU president Joseph DelGrosso passing away in 2015.
The district portrayed a win-win for the contract.
“With 86 percent approval from voting members of NTU, this contract is a testament to a shared vision for education in Newark between the Union and the District,” said Larisa Shambaugh, the district’s chief talent officer.
“The negotiating teams worked together over many months to achieve this collaborative result, which we believe benefits all educators and students.”
An added element is the fact that the district is moving out of its 20-plus years of state control, something that could end in the next two years. With such a transition in mind, the contract has a clause to reopen talks for the last year of the contract.
“Presumably, we’ll be under local control by then,” Abeigon said. “And we’ll also be under a different governor. We’ll see what all that brings.”
Still, there remain a number of questions going forward. The contract does not address the ongoing debate over the district’s surplus pool of teachers, roughly 70-80 teachers at last count and costing about $8 million a year.
And separate memoranda continue to be issued regarding the district’s extended-day programs in 33 schools, programs that have had a mixed track record in the union’s eyes.
But Abeigon said it was time to strike a deal, even with questions unanswered or uncertain moving forward. “There was a thought to wait it out to the next governor, but we have done enough waiting,” he said.