By Steve Gunn

NEWARK, N.J. – One might expect members of the Newark Teachers Union to be thrilled with their new tentative collective bargaining agreement.

It would provide teachers with raises that would average nearly 14 percent over three years, along with retroactive raises for the past two years ranging between $3,000 and $12,500.

Teachers in a lot of districts around the nation are being asked to accept pay freezes, or to make concessions that would lower their salaries. The Newark teachers have been offered a very sweet deal.

Union leaders have endorsed the agreement, saying it’s the best possible deal they’re going to get right now. Gov. Chris Christie has also given his blessing.

But after an ugly meeting Tuesday of union members, it became apparent that there’s a great deal of rank-and-file opposition to the proposed contract, according to a report published by

That’s right. Newark teachers may stick their noses up at a 14 percent raise.

“The way that meeting went, all I’ll say is it’s in the hands of the members,” NTU President Joseph Del Grasso was quoted as saying.

So what’s the big concern with the new contract?

It would create two pay schedules for teachers – one that includes bonuses for outstanding teachers and one that doesn’t. The agreement would require new teachers and those with basic bachelor degrees to be on the salary chart that offers bonuses. Teachers with higher degrees would have a one-time opportunity to switch to the bonus scale.

The bonus scale would be the first of its kind in New Jersey.

The idea is obviously to get the majority of teachers motivated to perform better by offering them rewards. But for some Newark teachers, this is nothing more than an evil plot to divide the all-important union.

“It creates a division that is unnecessary at a time when we need to be more unified than ever,” one teacher was quoted as saying.

The central issue should be providing excellent service to students, not building union unity. State and district officials obviously want to see better results from many teachers and they’re willing to pay for it with bonuses. And they are being quite generous when it comes to the standard raise that’s on the table.

But some teachers even see evil motives behind the large raise.

“This is a carrot on a stick,” a teacher was quoted as saying. “Why would they give us all this money? What is behind door No. 1?”

Perhaps an expectation that teachers will pick up the pace and help kids learn if they have plenty of money in their pocketbooks.

Is that really such an unreasonable expectation for the school board to have? I guess we’ll find out next week when the membership votes on the proposed contract.