When teachers in Louisiana’s top performing high school, Ben Franklin, started their drive toward a union contract, it was big news across New Orleans.
The Franklin campaign caught the attention of charter school teachers at Morris Jefferson Community School who, just this month, have asked their board to begin negotiations on a contract of their own.
Meanwhile, the Franklin high school’s school board voted unanimously on March 19 to approve a union contract, hammered out in months of collaborative negotiations; it is the first contract in New Orleans in more than a decade. It addresses job security, transparency, and teacher voice – the same issues that Morris Jeff teachers hope to bring to the table as they move towards negotiations for New Orleans’ second charter school contract.
In last year’s courageous push to get to the negotiating table, Franklin teachers articulated the need for a strong union as a tool to improve their student’s education. “Without a clear — and safe — process for teachers to voice our concerns over the curriculum and direction of the school,” says teacher Dustin Batson, “Franklin students cannot benefit from the full expertise of the faculty.”
The contract provides Franklin teachers with job security after two years of employment. As the only charter school in New Orleans which offers true job security, this new contract will help Franklin attract and retain the very best teachers in New Orleans. “Teachers can see that they have more rights, more voice, transparency and job security at Franklin than at any other school in New Orleans,” says English teacher Greg Swanson.
The Franklin contract makes the school a better place to work: “It gives teachers a say in what’s happening in the school and at the same time it gives them the security to be able to have a say without fear. It allows teachers to advocate for their students. It brings a level of fairness to everything that happens at the school.” Says Swanson.
Other gains speak more directly to the unnecessarily arbitrary working conditions of charter school teachers. The new contract has a transparent salary scale which will factor in years in the classroom and advanced degrees. However, the contract continues to protect hiring flexibility, a hallmark of charter school staffing. If teachers approach Franklin H.S. with “relevant experience,” they can be hired and placed on the salary scale in a fair and transparent way.
Through the new contract, the evaluations process recognizes strengths, addresses insufficiencies with a potential for growth, and ultimately allows for the removal of underperforming teachers if improvements are not made.
When asked if the new contract will benefit students, both Masterson and Swanson point to language in the agreement which reflects the student-focused nature of the teachers’ bargaining. “The top priority of teachers was to have planning time for collaborating with each other on lessons,” Masterson explains. “This allows us to create lessons of superior quality and of superior academic rigor. Our students deserve these extra types of experiences.”
Another gain that bargaining unit members are celebrating is the right to roll over paid time-off days (PTO) from year to year. Until now, personal time-off days at Franklin H.S. had a “use it or lose it” status. PTO rollover sets Franklin apart from the majority of other charter schools in New Orleans.
The morale of the school has done a complete turnaround since teachers began collaborating on the landmark labor agreement. “Teachers found a shared camaraderie and hopefulness in working with each other in an association that has not been felt for decades,” says math and computer sciences teacher, Michael Masterson. “We all have an optimistic and collaborative outlook when speaking with our administration which has replaced the resignation and feeling of being at loggerheads with them.”
“New teachers hired on at Franklin are guaranteed fairness and transparency in how they will be evaluated and how they will be compensated,” Masterson adds. “No other school in New Orleans guarantees a working environment like Franklin’s.”
To view Franklin’s collective bargaining agreement, click here.
To read the press release announcing Morris Jefferson Community School teachers’ union petition, click here.