Brooklyn charter school teachers ratify innovative first contract

By Rob Callaghan

The UFT and the board at the Fahari Academy Charter School have agreed to a first-ever contract at the school.

The three-year contract, which was unanimously ratified on June 29 by the staff, will go into effect during the 2012–2013 school year and cover the teachers and teachers’ assistants at the middle school, which is located in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

In the first year, the contract provides teachers with a premium of 20 percent above the Department of Education pay scale in order to fairly compensate teachers for an extended day that runs from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Educators at the school will receive a 28 percent pay increase over the life of the contract.

The agreement includes salary steps based on education and years of experience, along with tuition reimbursement and two 45-minute prep periods throughout the school day. The contract also includes teacher-led committees that will help ensure that teacher voice is included in all programming and policy planning. But most important to educators was the creation of a due-process system, which includes arbitration as the final step for grievances and terminations.

In September 2011, educators at the school organized a union, seeing it as a way to help them provide Fahari’s students with the best possible education. Two months later, on Nov. 2, management at the school agreed to voluntarily recognize the UFT as the educators’ exclusive collective-bargaining representative.

After a series of negotiating sessions over the next seven months, educators and the board came together on an agreement that achieved the same kind of job protections and salary steps that teachers in district schools have.

Sonia Browning, a founding teacher at the school, said that with the contract in place, she looks forward to working with the administration to create a thriving school community.

“With the establishment of a teachers union, I see a unique opportunity for our staff and administrators to collaborate more effectively,” Browning said. “I am confident that this will lead to an enriched learning environment for our students.”

The board’s director, Dirk Tillotson, spoke of the positive working relationship between the school, the educators and the UFT.

“From the beginning we have seen this as a partnership to serve the students and families at Fahari, and this contract makes the school more stable and stronger,” he said.

Tillotson said that the negotiation process was at heart a dialogue. “The bargaining process itself was a back-and- forth about what we need to run a good school, and what conditions need to exist to staff and develop it, and how to structure that conversation,” he said. “As someone who has worked with charters going on two decades, I see this as a new way for unions and charters to work together.”

Fahari currently serves 165 students in grades 5 through 7, but plans to expand through grade 12.