Newark Teachers Union’s tentative new contract calls for 4.5% raises, $65,000 starting salary

A man wearing sunglasses and a suit jacket points forward while standing at a podium with a colorful building and a flag in the background.
"We need to create a destination district," said Newark Teachers Union president John Abeigon about the terms of a proposed new five-year contract that aims to recruit and retain teachers. (Patrick Wall / Chalkbeat)

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The Newark Teachers Union has reached a tentative five-year agreement with the Newark Board of Education that would offer a higher starting salary for new teachers of $65,000, 4.5% average annual raises, and more say from educators on decisions involving curriculum and school budgets, among other provisions.

Union and district officials say the contract’s terms were jointly agreed on with the goal of attracting new teachers and retaining current ones in the district — an ongoing issue school systems face across the country.

“We need to create a destination district,” said John Abeigon, the union’s president of nine years, in a phone interview with Chalkbeat Newark on Friday. “Money attracts new educators but professionalism and respect keeps them here. Moving forward, a lot of decision making will involve classroom teachers.”

Informational sessions are set to be held over the next week, culminating in a scheduled ratification vote from 7,000 members on June 6, just ahead of the current contract’s expiration at the end of next month.

The union began negotiations in January and met weekly with the district to reach the terms of the tentative agreement, which outlines 4.5% average annual raises for the five years of the contract, with additional increases for teachers with master’s or doctoral degrees, or those with 35 or more years of service.

In 2022, the district and union re-opened the current contract, which had been ratified in 2019, to increase the starting salary for new teachers from $55,500 to $62,000 as the district faced staffing struggles linked to COVID.

Under the newly proposed deal, the new starting salary would be $65,000 and reach $74,000 in the fifth year of the contract. There would also be salary increases for non-instructional staff, substitutes, and hourly-pay employees, though Abeigon did not specify what the raises would be in those areas.

Superintendent Roger León and school board members congratulated the union members and negotiating teams on the tentative contract at the board meeting on Thursday.

“If our teachers are happy and healthy, they are better able to serve and provide a high quality education to our students,” said co-vice president Vereliz Santana. “The data proves that [teachers] are probably the most singularly important factor as it relates to academic outcomes.”

A new aspect of the tentative agreement would allow classroom teachers to be invited to participate in committee meetings where curricula are decided on and budgetary matters at the school level are discussed, Abeigon said.

Teachers will be given a seat at the table and have a say in the direction the district takes, he added.

“By the time we’ve implemented this for ten years, I predict you won’t even recognize the district,” he said. “We’ll have teachers who have been involved, who are informed, and who have skin in the game. They’ll be given a reason to stay.”

The contract also proposes a new child study committee team to ensure social workers and other employees have more reasonable caseloads and schedules, the union noted in a press release email on Friday.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten praised the agreement in a statement included in the Friday press release.

“This Newark tentative contract 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,” Weingarten said.

Clarification: May 28, 2024: The story was updated to clarify that the 4.5% annual raises are an average. Depending on the step in the teacher salary guide, some members may be eligible for slightly higher or lower increases.

Catherine Carrera is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Newark. Contact Catherine at ccarrera@chalkbeat.org.

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