By David Cruz
Gov. Chris Christie waited, mostly patiently, while the major players had their say about the groundbreaking labor contract that Newark teachers ratified this week. The deal, which includes the heretofore unheard of concept of merit pay for certain teachers, was celebrated today as a potential game changer for how these deals get done across the state, and the country. The governor had a special message for the state’s other, and much larger, teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association.
“This is where education in America is moving, and you can either be part of the difference, or you can be run over by it,” said Christie, when asked if he thought the NJEA would agree to a similar deal. “I would be thrilled to have them be part of the difference, but I am not one bit reluctant to run them over with it. It can work either way.”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, the parent of the Newark local, said the process, while long and often contentious, showed what can be done when all involved keep their eyes on the bottom line.
“Make sure we do what we just saw in the classroom a couple floors up from us,” she said about where the focus of educators should be. “Kids who really care about their future and us really, really nourishing that, so that they can reach their God-given potential and have the skills and knowledge they need, and that our Democracy is better and better for it.”
But the deal, which also included retroactive pay for teachers and a say in the evaluation process of their peers, did not sit well with many teachers, who felt the union sold them out for some merit pay. Long-time union boss Joe Del Grosso said today that he stands by the deal.
“It’s my job now to prove to you that you were wrong and that this was really the right course of action and that it’s actually going to make your job better and you’re going to have a chance at bonus money if you meet certain requirements,” he said. “I think it’s going to be great.”
This deal relies on millions of dollars from the Facebook grant money to fund merit raises and bonuses, something which could make similar agreements in other districts that are not so well endowed a little more difficult.
It is rare that you’ll find a governor show up to celebrate the signing of a union contract, but it’s an indication of how significant this deal is that there were so many people here willing to take part of the credit for it.