Arbitrator: State broke “breakthrough” pact with Newark Teachers Union

Breakthrough contract? Well, maybe, if state hadn’t broken it.

A state-appointed arbitrator has ruled the Newark school district–under the control of Gov. Chris Christie–consistently violated major provisions  of a labor contract that was trumpeted nationally as a major educational reform.

The so-called “breakthrough contract” –reached five years ago this month–was financed by a large  share of the private $100 million gift given to the district by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg in a highly-touted publicity campaign that counted Oprah Winfrey among its most prominent supporters.

Zuckerberg provided at least $31 million for the contract–a donation engineered by former Newark Mayor (now US Sen.) Cory Booker. The unusual private funding of a public labor contract was supposed to open the way for merit pay for teachers, peer evaluation of teachers by their professional colleagues, and participation by union members in the development of their own training. Winfrey, on national television, dubbed Booker a “rock star”” for his role in the Zuckerberg gift; Christie himself, by manipulating election laws, eased Booker’s path to the senate.

Long before arbitrator James Mastriani issued his ruling, however, the Facebook intervention in the state’s largest school district was viewed as a massive waste of funds–no matter their source.  Much of the Zuckerberg money went to consultants.

The ruling is likely to cost the district some $13 million in back pay owed to hundreds of teachers. But, more significantly, the ruling demonstrates that the district had little interest in the kinds of changes that–at the time–were heralded as substantial reforms to instruction and teacher training.

For example, the district–first under state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson and then her successor and former boss, Christopher Cerf–failed to allow the union to participate in a “consultative committee” that would approve graduate education programs, linked to the so-called Common Core standards, for teachers. Instead, the district–without consultation–limited approved programs to Relay, a charter school related training program with links to Anderson and Cerf, a national champion of charter schools.

Mastriani, the arbitrator, said the district made a “conscious decision” to delay implementing the provision while top administrators developed their own guidelines without the union’s consultations. The arbitrator said the contract language was “clear.”

Another key provision of the contract suggested teachers would play a role in “peer evaluation”–teachers and other independent evaluators, instead of administrators, could judge instructional effectiveness. That provision was linked to the so-called “merit pay” items that tied raises to ratings.

The district decided to use current Newark school administrators as “peer validators” who were supposed to work “intensely with new and tenured teachers in danger of receiving” a poor rating–and, therefore, a possible denial of a salary increase.

The use of administrators, Mastriani ruled, “fell outside the contractual definition of who can serve in the capacity of peer validator.”

Although the decision was a substantial victory for the NTU, it did little to help individual teachers who received bad ratings. The arbitrator refused to award them the salary increases they would have received but for the use of ineligible “peer validators.”

NTU lawyers have demanded that the Newark school district comply with the order that was issued Sept. 13.






  1. So Cerf will leave NPS w/ a $13 million debt? Quite a legacy.

    1. Oh, I suspect the debt will be a lot larger than that.

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