Newark raises entry-level teacher salaries to $62,000 to address pandemic-worsened staffing shortages

In an effort to address a years-long teacher shortage made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, Newark Public Schools will raise starting salaries by $8,000 this fall, or about 15%, the district and local union announced. .

Raising the starting salary to $62,000 a year for entry-level teachers in the state’s largest school district is among several salary changes intended to attract new teachers and retain veterans.

The union and the district renegotiated salary increases under an existing contract that expires at the end of the 2023-24 school year. Without the raises, the starting salary in September would have been $55,469, down from $54,000 in September 2021, according to the union.

Officials said additional changes include raising the salaries of teachers already in the district to the new starting minimum if they earn less. All teachers, regardless of their current salary, will receive an additional $500 increase for each of the remaining two years of the contract, on top of the 3.5% annual increases originally provided for in the three-year contract.

Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León released a statement Thursday calling the agreement “historic.”

“As teacher shortages across the country have been exacerbated by the global pandemic, we at Newark are leveraging several strategies to attract and retain great teachers,” León said. “These new salaries will attract new talent and at the same time promote retention by increasing the salaries of experienced teachers.”

Newark Teachers Union president John Abeigon said Friday there were about 500 teaching vacancies in the district. That compares to the 2,951 positions currently filled, union officials said. They educate a total of just over 35,000 regular public school students.

Newark has another 20,000 students enrolled in charter schools, although their teachers are not paid by the district and are not eligible for increases announced this week.

Abeigon said the ongoing teacher shortage has resulted in larger class sizes and a heavier workload for teachers, both of which are detrimental to student education.

He was confident that the salary increases would help fill the staffing gap, especially with several nearby universities like Montclair State University and Kean University in the Union producing education graduates looking for jobs. a job in the fall.

Abeigon cautioned against comparing salaries too closely between districts, noting that New Jersey’s starting salary and teacher salary ranges are based on the local cost of living and other factors.

That said, the renegotiated salary increases appear to significantly boost Newark’s competitiveness, with the new starting salary more than $6,000 higher than the state’s average minimum wage of $55,469 for teachers with bachelor’s degrees in 2021-22, according to New Jersey School Boards. Association.

Abeigon said the $4 million costs of the starting salary hike and other increases would come from federal American Recovery Act funds earmarked explicitly for pandemic-related teacher recruitment and retention.

The pandemic has worsened the shortage of teachers in Newark and other districts, with dramatic changes in the job, including the demand for new skills required for distance learning and health concerns with the return of classes in person while the coronavirus and its variants remained in circulation.

But, Abeigon said, the virus has underscored the importance of public schools as a key part of the economy that allows parents to physically commute to work or attend to work while working from home. .

For Newark, where understaffing had been an issue long before the coronavirus demanded educational and societal changes, Abeigon said a silver lining from the pandemic could finally fill a persistent compensation-related staffing gap that the negotiations had failed to resolve.

“We’ve had these discussions for several years now,” he said. “The COVID pandemic has just brought it to the fore.”

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Steve Strunsky can be reached at sstrunsky@njadvancemedia.com

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