Newark Teachers Union members to vote on ‘groundbreaking’ new contract
AFT President Randi Weingarten says Newark public school students will be the biggest beneficiary of the latest union contract. | Newark Board of Education

NEWARK, N.J.—The 7,000 members of the Newark (N.J.) Teachers Union, AFT Local 481, will vote June 6 on what local President John Abeigon calls a “groundbreaking” tentative contract which gives them the highest starting pay in the U.S. and a big say in running the schools, too.

The point of the five-year pact, which sets starting pay at $65,000 a year, and annual raises of 4.5%, with $74,000 as starting pay in its fifth year, 2028, is to make Newark “a destination district” for both new and experienced teachers, Abeigon told both AFT and New Jersey media.

There will also be higher pay for teachers with masters and doctoral degrees and for teachers who have been in the city’s schools for at least 35 years. And the tentative agreement includes pay hikes for non-instructional staff, substitutes, and hourly-pay employees.

But what makes this contract transformational and a model for other districts, Abeigon and union Secretary-Treasurer Michael Iovino say, is it gives teachers a formal say in school budgets, choice of principals, and setting and revising the courses they teach.

That provision, the union predicts, will help attract top-quality teacher prospects to the city’s schools.

“A few years ago, when I started to talk about revamping education to make it more teacher and professional staff-driven, there were a lot of people–including our executive board and negotiations team–that told me that there is no way the district would ever go for it,” Abeigon said in introducing the tentative agreement to his members.

Change often difficult

“Change is often hard and terrifying for those who have been institutionalized in a broken system.” But the union and the city Board of Education “reached a tentative contract agreement which included pretty much all of the ideals we have fought so hard over the last year.”

“Once this contract is up and running, educators will have a say in most aspects of our day-to-day work,” Iovino added in his message to members about the new tentative pact. “At the school level, we’ll have a…School Leadership Committee that will recommend staffing levels, principals for hiring, budget, and more.

“But we have an obligation, as well, as it will be incumbent upon ALL of us to enforce this contract! We fought too hard to get to this point and our colleagues from around the country will be watching. When we succeed in Newark, we will become a model for every district, everywhere.

“The dark days are coming to an end…It’s the time for hope and pride to rise.”

Another provision changes teacher evaluations’ emphasis from criticism leading to firing to support leading to improvement. And a child study committee team—with teachers and staffers on it, thanks to the contract—will try “to ensure social workers and other employees who work at several schools have reasonable caseloads and schedules,” the union says.

AFT President Randi Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher, hailed the Newark tentative agreement as a model for others nationwide, not just for its provisions, but for how Local 481 and the school board’s negotiators collaborated in reaching it.  The leading beneficiaries, both Weingarten and the local leaders say, will be the kids.

“What a difference local control makes, and a superintendent and union that want to make progress for students, as opposed to erecting obstacles or taking pot shots,” Weingarten said, without naming school districts where such conflicts occur.

“This Newark tentative agreement is a transformative document charting out a cultural shift of educators and district officials working together on the educational strategies, policies, and practices that will actually make a difference for students.

“Teachers will have a genuine voice in the classroom and even school operations and teachers and administrators have pledged to work together to make this a reality.”

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Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.