The contract is key: Educators at three charters ratify new agreements

Academy of the City special education coordinator Jessica Donatelli (left) and associate teacher Karen Granados read over the contract before voting on the first CBA at the school.

by Rob Callaghan

The grassroots union movement at charter schools continues to grow as schools throughout the city enter into first contracts and successor agreements. Within a single week over the summer, educators at a French immersion charter school in Harlem and an elementary school in Queens entered into their first contracts, while a high-performing union charter school in the Bronx ratified its latest contract. Earlier in the school year, educators at Amber Charter School in East Harlem reached a successor agreement, and Opportunity Charter School educators entered into a first contract.

On June 21, educators at New York French American Charter School (NYFACS) voted unanimously to approve a first-ever contract that covers the teachers, assistant teachers, and social workers at the bilingual elementary charter school in West Harlem.

The following week, on June 24, teachers and professional staff at University Prep Charter High School, formerly Green Dot New York, voted for a renewal of their contract.

That same week, on June 27, all teachers, associate teachers, guidance counselors and special education coordinators at Academy of the City Charter School voted unanimously to approve their first-ever contract.

“It’s exciting to see all of these charter schools reach agreements that recognize the essential role educators play in making schools great. These agreements represent an important marker in the growth of the unionized charter movement,” said Anne Goldman, UFT Vice President of non-Department of Education members and head of the UFT’s charter school organizing campaign.

Both the two-year contract at NYFACS and the three-year agreement at Academy of the City create a due process system that includes arbitration as the final step for grievances and terminations. “The due process piece is essential because it means they can’t victimize you because you’re outspoken or if they just don’t like the color of your hair,“ said Diane Biondo, a 2nd-grade teacher at the Academy of the City.

The pacts also include salary schedules based on education and years of experience. “The pay schedule was really significant because as a senior teacher it’s important to me that my colleagues are getting paid fairly, and that there is equity,” said Ms. Biondo.

NYFACS 4th-grade teacher Yael Gacougnolle, who served on the negotiations committee, spoke of the importance of the contract as a tool to help ensure fair treatment, “The agreement secures our rights as educators and those rights can now be defended. The contract creates equality for everyone.”

University Prep Charter High School educators ratified a renewal of their innovative contract originally signed in 2009. The latest agreement includes a salary increase for educators and a new evaluation system. “The new contract maintains the same level of protection for all staff while adapting a new observation system for teachers,” said Donial Rodriguez, Chapter Leader at University Prep. “The new system encourages teachers to have those very important pedagogical conversations with the administration.”

The ratification at University Prep came the same week as graduation at the high school where 100 percent of students graduated and were accepted to college.

The salary schedule, which creates transparency and equity in pay, and due process structures represent important achievements as charter school educators organize into UFT contracts.