By Jessica Williams, The Lens staff writer |
Less than two weeks after the Algiers Charter School Association announced its decision to cut retirement benefits for more than 400 employees, Algiers charter school teachers and other education stakeholders met Wednesday night to discuss ways to protest the change.
The group is calling itself the Algiers Parent Teachers and Community Organization, and is comprised of current teachers, parents, retirees, among others. Their goal is simple: to fight their charter operator’s recent switch from the statewide retirement pension program, the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana, to an independent, 401k-styled program in which teachers only get out what they put in. The group met Wednesday at Love Outreach Christian Center on Opelousas Street to talk strategy and to get advice from local educational leaders.
A few well-known faces were in the crowd, including state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Louella Givens, who is up for re-election; Orleans Parish School Board president Lourdes Moran; and attorney Willie Zanders, who hinted Wednesday that he would represent the teachers if they chose to sue. Zanders already has corresponded with charter school board officials on behalf of the affected teachers.
Both Moran and Givens expressed concern for offended teachers and alleged that the Algiers group didn’t comply with due process laws.
“I still believe what I told you, that you are on solid legal footing,” Givens advised the crowd. “I don’t care that the Algiers Charter School Association says it can amend its contract with the state. It doesn’t mean that they can amend their contract to you without notice.”
She didn’t explain what contract she meant; the teachers don’t have a collective bargaining agreement with the charter board.
Moran was more concerned with the charter operator’s swiftly called Tuesday board meeting, a meeting that Zanders and charter-school employees say was not in line with open meetings law.
“This is an organization that is handling public money, in a public format,” Moran said. “And if they want to be educational operators, then you need to hold them to the same standards you hold us.”
The special-called meeting, in which teachers were given the chance to share their concerns with the school’s board, wasn’t posted on the organization’s board meeting schedule on its website, but was available on the website calendar 24 hours prior, a spokesman for the charter group said Thursday. The Lens has requested advanced notices of every charter school board meeting in New Orleans, but the spokesman admitted Thursday that traditionally, the board hasn’t been in the habit of sending out those notices, though state law requires them to do so. Instead, they direct interested parties to their website.
“Obviously you don’t want to be checking the website every day to see if a special-called meeting has been posted,” spokesman David Jackson said. “We definitely need to create a list and make sure you have been notified (in advance).”
It’s unclear if any charter officials attended Wednesday’s community meeting of more than 100 people; none addressed the group.
Talk turned to other matters as teachers filled out comment cards that were read aloud by organization representatives, and answered by Givens, Moran, and Zanders. Comments ranged from concern about whether cutting off the pension plan would affect Social Security payments, to a debate of whether or not Type 5 charters should even be subject to Algiers Charter governance. By law, Type 5 charters, which comprise nearly all of ACSA’s membership, are considered individual local educational agencies.
“When the Algiers Charter School Association was formed, there are those who think the organizational structure there was incorrect,” Givens said. “Because by law, each Type 5 charter is supposed to … have its own board. They just slid through.”
The community group will likely use this and due process laws as fodder if a lawsuit is filed. The group plans to attend the next charter board meeting on Oct. 27.