Newark uses dollars to make sense

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There's a lot to like about the new agreement between Newark Public Schools (NPS) and the Newark Teachers Union (NTU).  While it clearly includes some compromises, the contract moves the district forward by leaps and bounds.  The sizable sum of money the district and philanthropic groups are investing is a pretty penny, but it makes good sense.

The restructured compensation system provides incentives for high performing teachers to stick with Newark. Rather than seeing paychecks grow solely based on years of service, teachers will now get raises based on the combination of performance and experience, not just time at the front of the class.  Teachers with less than an "effective" rating will have to spend another year on the same pay step.  (Those who are "partially effective" can recoup 50% of the step increase they missed out on if they are rated effective or highly effective the next year.)  

Future NPS teachers and current teachers moving to the new "universal pay scale" are eligible for up to $5,000 for high performance as well as a step increase.  Up to an additional $5,000 will go to those highly effective teachers in a low-performing school and another $2,500 is available for those in hard-to-staff subject areas.  That means that a high performing teacher in a low-performing school teaching a hard-to-staff subject can earn $12,500 beyond her base pay.  

Most collective bargaining agreements ignore the fact that advanced degrees do not make teachers more effective. Not Newark. This new pay scale doesn't have educational lanes; additional pay is based on performance rather than credentials. Teachers are eligible to receive a one-time bonus of $20,000 if they complete an approved educational program that's aligned to the district's priorities and to the Common Core.  They'll get $10,000 when the program is completed and the other $10,000 if they hang around for at least three more years.  The district will need to be judicious in their approval of programs for this to be a real win, but it has the potential to impact graduate education programs in the area, teacher behavior, and their bottom line in a positive way.  

For teachers who are weighing the options between the old and new pay scales, there's a one-time "transition stipend" from $500 to $10,500 to sweeten the deal.  The actual base pay amounts in the new pay scale are a little less than the current schedule for teachers with graduate degrees, so this financial nudge is needed to entice people to move over to the new scale, and the district will need a substantial majority of teachers to move over to make the changes meaningful.

This collection of compensation reforms as well as the other changes in the NPS contract  is a model to which other districts should aspire.  With thoughtful implementation and monitoring, Newark just might get what they bargained for.

--Nancy Waymack