Williamsburg charter staff wins prep period grievance

by Rob Callaghan

Teachers at Beginning with Children Charter School, a K-8 charter school represented by the UFT, have reaffirmed their right to unassigned prep periods, thanks to an arbitrator’s decision. The victory for teachers comes as the school’s very existence is being threatened.

According to the DOE-UFT contract that is in force in the conversion charter school in Williamsburg, teachers are entitled to one daily unassigned period for professional work. Yet last fall, school administrators took away the prep periods of 17 teachers, requiring the teachers to spend the time doing professional development instead.

In its grievance, the UFT contended the action was in clear violation of Article 7 of the contract that defines teacher preparation periods as unassigned periods that may be used to write lessons, grade papers, analyze student data, meet with parents, students or colleagues, or fulfill other professional responsibilities.

An independent arbitrator ruled on Dec. 12 that the teachers were entitled to self-directed prep periods. Those teachers will each receive $1,000 in back pay.

The grievance victory comes as the faculty, along with parents and the entire school community, is fighting to save the Brooklyn school from closure. Starting last winter, the charter school’s management organization, the Beginning with Children Foundation, began threatening to leave the school, claiming that the teachers contract was an impediment to changes that it wanted to see. Teachers at the school say that they, with the support of the UFT, were able to address virtually all of the concerns raised by the foundation within the confines of the current contract. Nonetheless, the foundation in September abandoned the school for which it is named.

The Board of Trustees voted to hand back the school’s charter in November. It cited the lack of a charter management organization, the impending loss of the space for the lower school that had been furnished by the foundation, and poor student performance, even though the school received an overall grade of B on its most recent progress report.

Chapter Leader Antoinette Emanuel said the recent arbitration decision provided an example of what can be accomplished when educators come together and advocate for themselves and their students. “Dealing with the stress of a possible school closure, our chapter now sees that the process works if we just stick with it,” she said.

Originally published in the January 16, 2014 New York Teacher issue