Franklin High School teachers hope to unionize; some teachers cite pay concerns

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Benjamin Franklin High School’s teachers plan to unionize, becoming the second charter school faculty in the city to do so.

More than 85 percent of Franklin’s teaching staff petitioned the administration and the school’s board Wednesday afternoon, according to a statement from the United Teachers of New Orleans, who will assist them in their efforts.

Faculty members want to begin negotiating a collective-bargaining agreement with the board. They say they can better advocate for their students if they had more of a hand in the decision-making at the school.

“We really want this to be a positive, productive, proactive thing where we are coming to the table and we are opening up the dialogue between teachers and administrators,” fine arts teacher Natalie Rinehart said.

Some employees have also been receiving salaries that are not in line with Franklin’s salary schedule, teachers said.

“We have joined together because there are some things that just aren’t right here,” said math teacher Mark Quirk. “Some people get paid way above our pay scale and some people get paid way below the pay scale.”

Duris Holmes, president of the charter board that governs Franklin, said Wednesday that the teachers’ move was unexpected, that he’d gotten the petition just hours ago, and that he wasn’t sure what the protocol was for officially recognizing a union. Most likely, the board would consider the teachers’ request at its April board meeting.

If salaries are the main complaint, “we can deal with that,” Holmes said.

He said he wasn’t sure why teachers felt they needed to unionize to have those issues addressed, although he also said that he wasn’t against the concept of a union.

The United Teachers of New Orleans is the New Orleans affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. It was the teachers union of choice before Hurricane Katrina, although membership significantly declined after the Orleans Parish School Board chose not to renew the city’s collective bargaining agreement. Neither the School Board, nor the state-run Recovery School District, has a collective bargaining agreement with a union.

In January 2013, UTNO requested teachers’ contact information from a group of New Orleans charter schools. The group wanted to spread the word about its professional development and potentially organize, union president Larry Carter then said.

Despite those efforts, the city’s first charter school to unionize, Morris Jeff Community School, linked up with the state affiliate of the country’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association.

Though UTNO draws its members from charter schools around the city, Franklin would be the first charter school to officially organize with that union.

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