Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Teachers fight to unionize at Benjamin Franklin H.S.

7th April 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Fritz Esker
Contributing Writer

Last week, more than 85 percent of the faculty at Benjamin Franklin High School presented a petition to the administration and the Advocates for Academic Excel­lence in Education charter school board asking for recognition of their union and to begin negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

The faculty’s desire to unionize came from a variety of reasons. Greg Swanson, AP and world literature teacher at Benjamin Franklin, said many teachers have left in recent years due to unhappiness and the faculty wants to stem that tide. They also want more of a voice in decisions that will affect the school.

“What’s really important to us is we have a voice,” Swanson said. “What we really want is transparency…and to be fairly paid and valued as employees…Pay is not the number one thing we’re looking for.”

Job security is also a critical point of contention for the teachers. At present, faculty members don’t receive a contract for the following school year until after the current year is over, leaving teachers with precious little time to find a new job if their contract is not renewed.

Teachers want to be able to voice their opinions about issues without the fear of reprisals from the school’s administration in the form of summary firings or contracts not being renewed.

The United Teachers of New Orleans believes that this is a process that will be beneficial for students, teachers and schools alike.

“When the decision making process is shared with the employees, better outcomes come from that,” said Larry Carter, president of the United Teachers of New Orleans.

Like many schools in New Orleans, Benjamin Franklin reopened as a charter school after Hurricane Katrina. Under state law, charter school teachers are considered “at-will” employees who can be terminated at any time without recourse or due process rights.

“I’m a strong believer in charter schools, but it has removed teachers’ voices from the process,” Swanson said.

While Carter said his organization is unaware of any other local charter schools attempting to unionize, he said UTNO will be there to help any schools that choose to do so.

Swanson hopes that Benjamin Franklin can be an example on how administrations can work more collaboratively with teachers to create better schools for their students.

“We want to make what is now the best school in Louisiana even better,” Swanson said. “Hopefully, we can be a model for other schools.”

This article originally published in the April 7, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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