NEWARK, NJ - A Superior Court judge upheld an arbitrator’s findings in a six-year contract dispute between the former state-operated Newark Public Schools administration and the city’s teachers union.

The Newark Teachers Union filed grievances against the district a year after reaching a contract agreement in 2012 with the former administration. The arbitrator last year found that the district still owed employees certain retroactive payments that were promised in the contract, acording to court records.  

The findings were challenged in court following arbitration under former Superintendent Christopher Cerf, who resigned from his position as the district transitioned to local control this year.

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In the wake of Superior Court Judge Keith Lynott’s ruling, Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon hoped the current administration would move forward with the remainder of the contractual payments to employees.

“We hope the elected school board and new schools superintendent will respect the contract and their employees enough to put this to an end and accept that binding arbitration is exactly what it means - binding,” Abeigon said in a statement.

It’s still unclear if the school board will do so. Abeigon said he hasn’t heard from the current administration since the judge’s ruling last month. A district spokeswoman and the school board attorney declined to comment on the matter. 

One point of contention between the district and the union dealt with retroactive salary payments, which are annual raises, and retroactive longevity payments, or bonuses that teachers receive when they reach their 15th, 20th and 25th years on the job. Those bonuses start at about $1,200 for the first interval and reach about $1,800, Abeigon said.

Teachers worked without a contract for two years starting in 2010. The new contract agreement reached by both sides in 2012 stipulated that both forms of retroactive payments would be made.

About $31 million in grant money from Facebook was used for retroactive salary agreements, but the arbitrator found that the district still had to pay a remaining $1.5 million in longevity payments. The district contended it had already exhausted the grant money on retroactive salary payments.

The district has a budget of about $1 billion, records show. 

The agreement between the district and union was monumental since it would base future compensation for employees upon merit, not seniority. Keeping in line with that, the district initially proposed to freeze longevity payments for existing employees and to eliminate them altogether for future hires, court documents say.

Cami Anderson, the superintendent at the time of contract negotiations, was apprehensive about including longevity payments during contract negotiations. The arbitrator noted that Anderson said she would "hold her nose" and ultimately agreed to retain longevity payments, court records show. 

The judge also upheld other contract violations that were found by the arbitrator, including the district’s failure to make retroactive salary payments to employees who were on leave during 2010-2012.

The district also failed to create an agreed-upon committee to compensate employees who earn higher degrees, the arbitrator found. The contract also stipulated that current administrators couldn't act as peer validates in teachers' evaluations. 

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