Bronx Community Charter staff gain greater voice in new contract

Founding teacher Chris Whitney (Gary Schoichet)

By Rob Callaghan

Last winter, educators at the Bronx Community Charter School organized a UFT chapter, citing the need for teachers’ voices in the school’s operation. This February, they unanimously ratified their first collective-bargaining agreement, which features teacher-led committees.

“This is a foundation that allows us to work together to address issues as an entire community, including our parents,” said founding 2nd-grade teacher Chris Whitney.

The Bronx Community Charter School, located just north of the New York Botanical Garden, on Feb. 12 approved the two-year contract, which covers the 43 teachers, instructional assistants, school counselors, data managers, and school aides at the elementary school.

In an effort to ensure that educators’ ideas and concerns were incorporated in the operation of the school, the contract includes a leadership committee and four other standing committees, each with majority staff representation, to provide input on curriculum, professional development, the school’s calendar and programming, and hiring and staffing decisions. All members at the school will serve on at least one standing committee. The curriculum committee will have staff representation from each grade.

The contract also strengthens due process for the staff. According to the new accord, arbitration will be the final step for all grievances and terminations. Monique Dols, a K-2 math intervention teacher, noted how important it is to have a due-process structure as a basic requirement for ensuring the respect and dignity that all educators deserve.

The agreement also includes a salary schedule that rewards educators for their experience.

Soon after the staff went public with their decision to join the UFT in January 2013, the school’s leadership voluntarily recognized the union. Two months later, in March, the school’s Board of Trustees formally recognized the educators’ union, and the UFT and the board began negotiations.

Fourth-grade teacher John Kruger, who was very active in the negotiations committee, noted how collegial the negotiating process was. “The contract really feels like a shared vision,” he said.

The Bronx Community Charter School, which was founded in 2008 with 100 children in kindergarten and 1st grade, currently serves approximately 300 students in grades K-5, with plans to expand through grade 8 by 2016.

Originally published in the March 27, 2014 issue of the New York Teacher