Support for South Bronx charter teachers

By Rob Callaghan

UFT educators tell board how union benefits their schools

New York City Charter HS for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries teacher March Basch reacts to a comment at the meeting.

Unionized charter school educators came out to a recent board meeting of a charter high school in the South Bronx to support the faculty who has been fighting for three years for a first contract.

Since January 2010, when teachers formed a union at the New York City Charter HS for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries, the UFT and the teacher-led contract committee have worked diligently in hopes of reaching a contract that would respect their rights as professionals and give them the ability to be the best advocates for their students. But three years later, the staff is still without a contract.

Negotiations proved fruitless and, in fact, reached an impasse. The sides completed mediation, and new negotiations sessions have been scheduled.

AECI’s staff came out to the Nov. 12 board of directors meeting to demand that the school’s management negotiate in good faith. In a show of solidarity, teachers from other UFT-represented charter schools attended the school’s meeting as well and spoke to the board about how a union contract had benefited their schools.

Crystal Chandler (left), the chapter leader at Opportunity Charter School in Harlem, and Bronx Academy of Promise teacher Jane Chien were among the educators to speak up for union representation.

Jane Chien, a kindergarten teacher at the Bronx Academy of Promise, described how the contract at her school brought clarity and transparency to personnel decisions and has improved relations between staff and the administration.

Crystal Chandler, the chapter leader at Opportunity Charter School in Harlem, highlighted how her weekly consultation meeting with the school’s administration helped identify and solve issues at the school level. She also spoke about how the union had resulted in a more stable workforce.

“We had 70 to 75 percent turnover every year, which as you know is not beneficial to the students,” she said. “For the first time, our students came back this September and recognized the majority of the staff.”

Building on Chandler’s comments, Marc Basch, an architecture teacher at AECI, connected the high teacher turnover at his school with the absence of a contract.

“We can’t suffer another year of this huge turnover,” he said. “There are a lot of incredible teachers here. We have a good group, and I’m looking forward to keeping us together.”

Basch contended that lower teacher turnover would result in better student outcomes. For example, he said, teachers who have known their students over the course of their entire high school education can write better college-recommendation letters.

Carlo Schiattarella, the newly elected board chair, said that the board of directors is committed to the negotiations process.

Originally published in the December 19, 2013 New York Teacher