Newark teachers getting merit pay in new contract

October 18, 2012 4:49:34 AM PDT
A tentative contract has been reached for teachers in the Newark Public School system, allowing for merit pay bonuses that will be funded mainly through a $100 million grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, a union official said.

The contract allows for up to $12,500 in bonuses tied to performance evaluations, said Newark Teachers Union President Joseph Del Grosso, making it the first in the state to tie the pay of public school teachers partly to how well their students perform.

The merit pay will be funded mostly by "the Facebook money," the $100 million Zuckerberg pledged to the Newark schools in 2010, Del Grosso said. The five-year grant comes from stock options and is distributed by a foundation. Officials with knowledge of the gift told The Associated Press earlier this year the company's public offering of the stock would not affect the donation.

The contract is a breakthrough for New Jersey's largest school district, which has long struggled to improve its schools and has been under state control for years. Its last teacher's contract expired in 2010. A proliferation of charter schools has taken students away from traditional public schools in the city.

The contract has the approval of Gov. Chris Christie, who met with Del Grosso and Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson Friday, Del Grosso said.

In August, Christie signed a bill overhauling teacher tenure, making it harder to obtain tenure protections and easier to lose them. The bill requires annual performance reviews and makes it easier to fire underperforming teachers.

The union's executive board unanimously approved the contract Tuesday. Del Grosso and schools Superintendent Cami Anderson will sign the contract Thursday at a Newark elementary school. Union members will vote Oct. 29.

The contract allows for teachers who do not meet performance requirements to be denied a step up in pay, Del Grosso said. Pay could be increased in subsequent years if a teacher's performance improves, he said.

The agreement also makes Newark the first system in the state to implement a peer review system. Teachers will be included as part of the evaluation process and will assess the performance of fellow educators.

"The major part for me was the part that we have peer review," Del Grosso said, adding it is something that he has been interested in for a number of years.

Del Grosso said he is pleased with the contract, and will be even more so if it is ratified by members.

"I'll be real pleased if the members ratify it," Del Grosso said. "It's their courage and it's been their motivation that has helped me get to this point. Without them it couldn't have happened."

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