With little fanfare, Newark board finalizes contract deals for Newark teachers, Roger León

The Newark school board signed off on two contracts with long-term implications this week.

At its meeting Tuesday, the board formally approved a five-year contract with the Newark Teachers Union and a two-year contract extension for Superintendent Roger León. 

Neither contract was on the agenda the board had printed before the meeting. The board had discussed extending León’s contract, which now runs until 2023, at a brief and sparsely attended public hearing before its meeting last week. It had not publicly discussed the teachers union contract, which union members ratified this week. The full cost of the contract, which provides raises and other financial benefits to teachers, has also not been disclosed.

The contracts represent a substantial exercise of the board’s recent empowerment from an advisory board when the district was under state control to one with almost complete authority.

“History was made tonight,” board president Josephine Garcia told her fellow board members after the vote. “This board voted and passed the first [teachers union] contract negotiated, ratified, and passed for the first time as 20 years as a functioning board under local control. You guys should be really proud of yourselves.”

All board members who voted signed off on the contracts. (One member, Asia Norton, said she could not vote because she had a conflict, but added that she is happy that León is leading the school system.) 

But one member raised questions about the process.

Instead of voting on a package of items that included the superintendent’s contract extension, Reggie Bledsoe, who was not present for the public hearing about León’s contract, suggested holding two votes.

“Personally, out of respect for our superintendent,” he said, “I think we should separate that item to vote on separately so that we know there’s unanimous support to amend the contract for an additional two years.”

Garcia pushed back against that suggestion, saying that León’s contract had undergone substantial board discussion.

“It’s a discussion we had [last] Tuesday evening, we all unanimously showed our support at our business meeting, but we’re voting on it tonight at the actual board meeting,” she said.

But then another board member, A’dorian Murray-Thomas, formally made a motion to separate the contract vote. It passed, unanimously.