NEWARK — In a landmark vote, the Newark Teachers Union on Wednesday ratified the state’s first teacher contract to provide bonus pay based on classroom performance.
The three-year deal, which awards merit pay to teachers who earn a rating of “highly effective,” was approved, 1,767-1,088, with almost 62 percent of those who voted supporting it. More than 2,800 of the nearly 4,700 union members turned out at union headquarters on Broad Street in Newark throughout the day to cast ballots.
The contract, which sparked strong opinions on both sides, will be the first in the state and one of the first in the nation to base teacher pay on classroom performance, including student progress.
Union President Joseph Del Grosso called it “a step in the right direction for the teaching profession.
“I’m happy. We’re finally going to have a say in our own destiny … how we’re evaluated. It’s the start of us getting back control of our profession,” he said minutes after the votes were counted.
“I believe we have taken a huge step toward raising student achievement,” Superintendent Cami Anderson said in a statement. “I am thrilled for our teachers here in Newark and for the teaching profession as a whole.”
The vote was originally scheduled for Oct. 29, but was delayed because of Hurricane Sandy.
The contract uses the new four-tier teacher rating system being ushered in across the state. It includes a 13.9 percent salary increase over three years for those rated “effective,” with additional merit bonuses for those rated “highly effective.” Teachers who are rated as highly effective, who work in one of the city’s lowest-performing schools and who teach a hard-to-staff subject, could earn as much as $12,500 per year in incentive pay.
Teachers would also have a say in the review process.
The contract will cost the district $100 million, half of which will come from private donors, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It also includes retroactive pay; the union had been working without a contract for two years.
A steady flow of teachers, aides and other union members lined up at the storefront union office to vote. A big rush came about 3:15 p.m., after school had ended for the day.
Opinions on the contract were split.
Kerry Beese, a master teacher who works with preschool teachers, said she voted for the contract even though it does not include a provision for master teachers to earn merit pay.
“I’m not happy with it, but with the economy, it’s probably the best we can get,” she said.
Teacher aide Myrna Aviles, who works at Barringer High School, said she also supported it. “The contract right now is what we have,” she said.
Laura Ferreira, a third grade teacher, said she believes merit bonuses will be impossible to attain and the contract will set a bad precedent. “It’s going to be so difficult you’re never going to see the bonuses,” she said.
Special education teacher Erica Green agreed. “It’s going to be hard as heck to attain ‘effective,’ ” she said. “And I’ve been a teacher for 14 years. A hardworking teacher.”
The American Federation of Teachers, the Newark union’s national affiliate, praised the contract.
“This agreement ensures that teacher voice, quality and experience are aligned with increased professionalism and better compensation,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement.