Opportunity Charter educators ratify first pact

Negotiations committee members (from left) Glenisha Gunnings, Jenni Heimueller, Vanessa DeLaCruz, Galvin Dolley, Christopher Haywood and Crystal Chandler place their votes.  (Miller Photography)

By Rob Callaghan

“Today was a truly amazing day,” said Crystal Chandler, a teaching assistant and negotiations team member. “Late evenings at the negotiation table culminating in dozens of my co-workers lining up to vote on our first contract was well worth the effort.”

Educators at the Grade 6-12 school — which serves both special needs and general education students — have been working toward this contract since they joined the UFT in May 2011. The state Public Employment Relations Board certified the teachers’ union in August 2011, and negotiations began in the fall of that year.

The school’s board of trustees is expected to ratify the contract at its June 13 board meeting.

The new collective-bargaining agreement is retroactive to Sept. 1, 2012 and runs through Aug. 31, 2014. It covers 75 teachers, teaching assistants, learning specialists, consultant teachers, behavior specialists, coaches, assistant deans, guidance counselors and social workers at the school.

The agreement includes a 5 percent pay increase for returning educators in the first year and a 3 percent bump in the second year; a starting salary based on experience and education; and an improved lateness policy. In order to ensure that teachers have a voice in school operations, the contract calls for the creation of three standing teacher-led committees on leadership, professional development and interviews. The contract also creates a due process system that includes arbitration as the last step for grievances and terminations. Soon teachers, the UFT, and the board of trustees will begin to negotiate an educator evaluation system at the school.

Math teacher Galvin Dolley, who served on the negotiations committee, noted that the ratification was an important outcome of the work that educators had put into forming a union at Opportunity Charter.

“We tell our kids to stand for what they believe in and we need to lead by example,” Dolley said. “I hope this motivates even more staff to get involved in their union.”

Originally published in the June 13, 2013 New York Teacher