|10-18-12 Groundbreaking Ed News - Merit Pay in Newark Contract, Supreme Court to hear Charter Case|
(GSCS Note: GSCS will be analyzing these issues closely as they evolve.)
Star Ledger - Newark teachers strike historic deal including bonuses for top educators
NJ Spotlight- Quest Academy Charter to Get Its Day in Supreme Court…After being denied a charter for a record five times, Quest questions if the state is meeting its own 'standard for review'
NJ Spotlight - Newark Teacher's Contract Culmination of Two Years Give and Take…The new deal includes large-scale bonus system and teachers evaluating teachers
Star Ledger - Newark teachers strike historic deal including bonuses for top educators
By Kelly Heyboer/ The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger
NEWARK — The Newark Teachers Union has reached a historic deal with the state that will make the district the first in New Jersey to offer bonuses to top teachers, union officials said today.
Union officials will announce a deal for a three-year contract Thursday that includes yearly bonuses that range from $2,000 to $12,500 for teachers rated "effective" or "highly effective" under a new evaluation system, said Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union.
Some of the money for the bonuses will come from the $100 million Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged to Newark schools in 2010.
"It was a long, arduous road to get to an agreement," Del Grosso said. "But we struck a really good deal."
Teachers unions have traditionally resisted merit pay or any system that would link teachers’ compensation to student performance. Del Grosso said the key to the Newark deal was a provision in the contract that will allow teachers to serve on the committees evaluating other teachers’performance in the classroom.
Each school will have a three-person evaluation committee that includes a school administrator, a principal and a teacher with equal power, Del Grosso said.
"We will have a say in our own destiny," Del Grosso said. "We’re militant in that we want to control our own profession."
Union officials and Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson will sign the preliminary deal Thursday, said Nat Bender, a spokesman for the American Federation for Teachers New Jersey, the union associated with the Newark teachers.
Bender said the two sides had discussed merit pay — or "performance enhancers" — for months.
"All of the negotiations have been at the table," Bender said.
The Hughes Justice Center, home to the state Supreme Court.
New Jersey’s charter school law and the state’s system of oversight have been commented on and debated in political and education circles.
Now the state’s highest court is about to join in the argument.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from the founders of a proposed charter school in Montclair against the state Department of Education for its repeated failure to grant it a charter.
The Quest Academy Charter School -- a planned high school for up to 250 students -- has been denied a charter a record five times by the state on a variety of grounds, ranging from questions about the completeness of its application to mounting resistance from the local district and others.
The local backlash to charter schools has become a statewide pattern, leading the administration to pull back on approving new charters, especially in suburban communities.
Quest first appealed in 2010 after its third rejection by then-acting Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks, and was denied by the state appellate court in May. The judges ruled unanimously that the state had properly followed the process in rejecting the school. (Quest has also appealed the fifth rejection earlier this year in a separate case.)
But in its petition to the state Supreme Court in June, the founders then challenged the process as a whole, opening up questions as to whether it was rigorous enough in following the law’s standards.
The challenge was based on the question of what is termed “standard of review,” arguing that the charter application process is a quasi-judicial one that has strict requirements of evidence.
The appellate court had sided with the state’s claim that it was more a quasi-legislative process that only needed to prove it wasn’t arbitrary and capricious.
But in the appellants’ petition, they argued there were numerous holes in the process and the state’s own capacity to fulfill it. They cited a state auditor’s report from last year that found several shortcomings in the state’s charter school office at the time.
If the appellants win, it would only add some high-powered fuel to the debate about the state’s role in overseeing charter schools, one that has only intensified under Gov. Chris Christie.
“Anytime you asking whether it is the appropriate standard of review, obviously it will cut across all the applications that are out there and the process as a whole,” said Michael Confusione, a Cherry Hill attorney representing the founders.
“To us, Quest’s situation is illustrative of a process that really isn’t fair and there really isn’t much review at all,” he said.
The Christie administration in its response maintained that the process was followed closely, and the appellants’ arguments did not rise to the level of importance warranted by the high court’s review.
“Nothing in this matter rises to the level required for certification by the Supreme Court,” read the response by Diana Sierotowicz, a deputy attorney general. “A fair reading of the appellate division decision shows that the administrative record was thoroughly reviewed.”
Still, for the court to hear the case at all caught some observers by surprise, the first venture for the justices into the contentious issue of charter schools. It comes at a time when the Legislature has openly said it wants to revisit the law as well, with some draft legislation making an appearance every few months.
“It’s one issue you think the court would want to stay away from,” joked Paul Tractenberg, a Rutgers Law School professor who has argued before the court in the Abbott v. Burke legislation.
Still, he and other said it raised some interesting questions as to an issue that has clearly been contentious. Tractenberg’s initial take was that the state could make a good argument for its process.
“I’m not a great fan of how the department behaves, but not sure this is the argument against them,” he said. “Does the court really want to intervene and say the department needs more staffing?”
William Harla, an attorney with DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole, last year represented a Princeton-based charter school fighting in court for its survival against local opposition. He also thought that this would be a high bar for the appellants to clear.
But he also said it appeared that the justices wanted to at least be part of the discussion.
“It’s a relatively new statute that hasn’t been reviewed by the court,” he said. “They’ll now take a look at and see whether it is adequate.”
Two years in the making -- two very public years, thanks to Facebook -- and the Newark teachers union has reached a preliminary agreement with the Christie administration for a new contract that will include bonus pay and an unprecedented role for teachers to police and evaluate their peers.
Newark superintendent Cami Anderson and Newark Teachers Union President Joseph Del Grosso are expected today to announce a five-year pact that would provide up to $12,500 in bonuses to exemplary teachers working in the toughest schools, the first large-scale bonus system in the state.
According to Del Grosso, the contract also will institute a salary guide for new teachers, one that requires them to receive positive evaluations before they can qualify for any raises at all.
Equally innovative is a peer review process that will not only have teachers part of the evaluations of their colleagues, but also helping oversee the district’s evaluation system as a whole.
“Up to this point, the evaluation system has been entirely the subjective opinion of one person,” Del Grosso said last night. “That won’t happen any more.”
The agreement is hardly final. It must be approved by the union’s 3,000-plus membership. A meeting is planned for this coming Tuesday at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, with a vote scheduled the following Monday.
Just getting this far was no small accomplishment. Talks over the past six months involved not just Anderson and Del Grosso but also state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
Then factor in Gov. Chris Christie, who gave his approval last Friday in a two-hour meeting at the State House with Del Grosso, Anderson, Cerf, and Weingarten, according to the NTU president.
“He was very motivated to get this done,” Del Grosso said. “He very much wants to see how this will work, he’s very interested in that.”
Christie’s office and Newark school officials declined to comment last night.
The details of the deal will be announced today at a midday press conference in Newark, but a few emerged yesterday. Del Grosso said the union’s executive committee unanimously endorsed the agreement on Tuesday night.
Most of the attention will be on the performance bonuses and other changes in how Newark teachers are paid, with different provisions for teachers at various points in their careers and education.
Del Grosso said performance bonuses will largely be paid through the funds raised by the Foundation for Newark’s Future, the group entrusted with the $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, which has brought the district considerable national attention.
The peer review program adds another level of accountability to the teacher evaluation systems required in every New Jersey district under the state’s new tenure law.
The Newark contract would have teachers serving on mandated “school improvement panels,” which oversee evaluations. In addition, they will be sitting in on the evaluations of their colleagues, including the classroom observations that are central to the process.
In addition, there will be a new 10-member committee for the district -- half appointed by Anderson, half by the NTU -- that will review every evaluation and the system as a whole. If it contests an evaluation, Anderson will have to justify the decision.
“She will still have to make the final decision, but she will have to give the reasons why,” Del Grosso said.
Teachers also would have the ability to call in an approved educator – be it a former teacher or administrator -- to provide a second evaluation and serve as a “validator” of the first.
“The peer review piece has been a key part of it from the beginning from my point of view,” the union president said. “I have been saying this a long time, and I finally have people interested in it.”
Garden State Coalition of Schools