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Newark scraps teacher merit-pay scheme

New York Teacher

The union representing Newark teachers announced a five-year deal with its school district on Aug. 13 that eliminates merit-based bonuses and allows low-rated teachers to earn pay increases. The changes overturn key elements of a controversial 2012 contract and represent a shift away from former Mayor Cory Booker’s education reform agenda, which sought to introduce corporate-style accountability and compensation practices into public education.

“All vestiges of corporate reform have been removed,” the union declared.

The agreement includes numerous provisions long sought by the Newark Teachers Union. In addition to the end of the merit pay scheme, the new contract will raise teachers’ salaries by about 3 percent per year. The deal gives teachers more planning time, a later return from summer break and more funds for classroom supplies and graduate courses. Teachers will also earn more for working after the school day or during the summer and for spending 20 or more years in the district.

Under the old contract, about a third of the teachers in Newark took advantage of a provision allowing them to opt out of the merit pay system. Fewer than 200 teachers each year received the bonus for “highly effective” ratings and an equivalent number of teachers were prevented from earning raises due to low ratings.

Teachers had agreed to the old contract in exchange for $31 million in back pay funded by Facebook tycoon Mark Zuckerberg — part of a $100 million gift he put forward to advance the merit pay scheme. But Zuckerberg’s money ran out and the district had to curtail bonuses for teachers who worked in hard-to-staff subjects and struggling schools.

The Newark schools are no longer under state control, as in the Booker era, and a veteran Newark educator, Roger León, is the superintendent.

Chalkbeat, Aug. 15