Wednesday, July 18, 2007

NJ Union Charter Ratifies Performance Pay Contract

It took 'em the better part of three years to get this contract; a LEAPer with three years of experience STILL makes almost $2k less than an average first year teacher in New Jersey.

Located in downtown Camden, LEAP is the only one among Camden's six charter schools to unionize its 55 teachers.

LEAP, its teachers achieve a contract It's believed to be the first charter pact tying salaries to performance.

By Melanie Burney
Inquirer Staff Writer

Three years after organizing, teachers at Camden's first charter school have settled their first contract: a three-year pact with performance incentives.

The agreement ends lengthy and sometimes contentious negotiations that began during the 2004-05 school year between teachers at the LEAP Academy University Charter and the board of directors.

In addition to retroactive raises, teachers will get raises based mostly on performance, such as improving standardized test scores and getting grants, said Gloria Hancock, chief school administrator. A teacher hitting all goals could get a 3.5 percent annual increase.

"You're trying to recognize where there is excellence in teaching, where teachers are going above and beyond," Hancock said yesterday.

Both sides ratified the agreement last week. The agreement also adds a half-hour to the instructional day.

It is believed to be the first agreement negotiated between a New Jersey charter and a collective bargaining unit tying salary to performance, according to Jessani Gordon, executive director of the New Jersey Charter Public Schools Association.

"The idea of pay for performance is something that resonates with our schools," Gordon said. "The whole charter school movement is about accountability."

Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, expressed doubt that teachers would fare well under a performance pay system based on annual evaluations.
"That makes it totally subjective, and totally a function of administrative favoritism," Wollmer said.

The association, the state's largest teachers union, represents teachers and support staff at eight of the state's 53 charter schools.

Located in downtown Camden, LEAP is the only one among Camden's six charter schools to unionize its 55 teachers. Jack Smultkis, LEAP Academy Association president, declined comment yesterday.

LEAP, which opened in 1997, has long had a merit-pay system. Teachers formed a union in 2004 seeking job security, better working conditions, and more competitive salaries. Under the agreement, teachers are guaranteed at least one third of the 3.5 annual increase, about 1.17 percent. Their annual evaluation will determine whether they receive any of the remaining two-thirds.

The agreement runs through the 2009-10 school year. The median salary for a LEAP teacher with three years of experience was $38,000 in the 2005-06 school year, according to the state Department of Education.

The average starting salary for a first-year public school teacher in New Jersey is $40,307, and the average teacher earns $57,707, according to the National Education Association.
LEAP, which stands for Leadership, Education And Partnership, was among the first charter schools in New Jersey. It emphasizes science, math and technology, and enrolls about 600 students.

Charter schools are funded by the state and run by parents, teachers and community leaders without oversight by the school district. They are given greater flexibility in curriculum and instruction.

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