The union representing Newark's 3,000 teachers has often found itself out of step with the New Jersey Education Association, which represents the vast majority of the state’s teachers.
The new contract agreement reached in Newark last week and up for a rank-and-file vote in the next has only made those differences more explicit, especially when it comes to performance bonuses.
Vincent Giordano, the executive director of the NJEA, yesterday spoke candidly about the agreement reached with the Newark Teachers Union, which is part of a separate national union, the American Federation of Teachers.
When contacted last night, Giordano said he was at first hesitant to comment on another union’s work -- “It’s technically not our business” -- but then did not much hide his opposition to key parts of the proposed contract.
His chief objection is to the contract's $5,000 salary bonuses awarded to teachers who opt in to a new salary guide and receive exemplary evaluations. Teachers working in the toughest schools and the hardest- to-fill positions would receive another $7,500 in bonuses.
If the contract is ratified, these would be the first performance bonuses offered on a significant scale in New Jersey, a situation in no small part due to the NJEA’s long-held opposition.
“I consider Joe [Del Grosso, the NTU president] a friend, and I would not second-guess anybody’s decision,” Giordano stated.
“But clearly performance bonuses are counter to our position,” he said. “It hasn’t worked anywhere, and where they have tried it they have been forced to end it abruptly.”
He went back to giving Del Grosso the benefit of the doubt to do what’s best for his local. “It’s just not our position,” he said. “It only creates problems and dissension among members.”
Giordano said he wasn’t much pleased with a second keystone of the deal, either, one that would allow teachers to evaluate fellow teachers.
Del Grosso has said that peer reviews are central to providing checks and balances for the district’s evaluations. The process is part of the new tenure reform bill, but only as an option for the unions in certain districts. In the drafting of that bill, the NJEA opposed peer review as even an option.
“I don’t want to sound reactionary," Giordano said, “but we don’t want our members evaluating one another. That is the job of the district.”
While the Newark agreement has already gotten a lot of attention, Giordano said he is not overly concerned that its main tenets will spread to his locals and be proposed anew by some school boards in negotiations.
“There’s the probability that people will see this, and there will be questions raised,” he said. “But I think our leaders and our rank and file are fully aware of the issues and our position.”