Until this year, the post-Katrina school system in New Orleans has been a model of hostility to unions. Then came a jolt: A surprise pro-union petition from many of the city’s most admired teachers at its renowned Benjamin Franklin High School.
An overwhelming majority (more than 85 percent of teachers and staff) signed a petition in favor of forming a union at Benjamin Franklin High School. Although the faculty of Franklin High School teach at the highest-performing school in the city, they have experienced many of the same bad management practices seen in the city’s other charter schools. After a positive outpouring from the community and Franklin alumni, the Franklin board of directors voted in favor of recognizing and bargaining with the union.
A major challenge Franklin teachers faced was their inability to voice concerns regarding their students and the school without fear of retaliation or termination. Teachers also were frustrated by the constant uncertainty that plagues many New Orleans charter teachers. The administration routinely waited until the middle of the summer to make hiring and firing decisions. Even veteran teachers with perfect performance reviews were unsure whether they would retain their position for the following school year. By waiting until midsummer to provide teaching assignments, the administration undermined the summer planning process of returning staff.
Now unionized, the Franklin faculty seeks to resolve these issues through a collective bargaining contract. The faculty at Franklin is excited to demonstrate a path forward for teachers in New Orleans. They hope to show other charter educators that they can have a voice in their school, and can reclaim the promise of teaching as a profession.
“As the top school in Louisiana,” says English teacher Greg Swanson, “I also believe it is our responsibility to set an example for other charter schools and lead the movement for more teacher involvement in education reform.”
The United Teachers of New Orleans (AFT Local 527) is proud of the gains teachers at Franklin have made for themselves—and for all educators in New Orleans.