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

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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About Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her reporting on charter school transparency and governance. In 2012, she was part of a team that received a National Edward R. Murrow Award for their work following a New Orleans family's recovery after Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Edna Karr Secondary School in Algiers, and she obtained her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached at (504) 575-8191.

  • Gregory Swanson

    As a teacher at Ben Franklin High School, I would like to state that while salary issues are an important concern for us, there are a number of other issues that also need to be addressed. Most importantly, we want to have a voice in making the school a better place for our students and become a standard bearer for faculty and administration working together to improve charter schools. We believe that by working together with our board and administration, we can continue to evolve and improve as the premier high school in Louisiana.

    Greg Swanson
    English Teacher

  • Clay

    As a Ben Franklin graduate, if this is what the teachers want to do, I fully support them.

  • nickelndime

    FRANKLIN HIGH SCHOOL teachers want to unionize. ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! Hello! This board wants neither teacher intelligence nor morality, nor can it afford it. Look at its pick for CAO, Robin Morris, (former principal of Jean Gordon Elementary) and on down the line. Do these Franklin High School teachers NOT understand why this board so expeditiously got rid of Carol Christensen (and the AP, Delores, a year later, who so well represented teachers’ and students’ interest) and who went in that muddied building in boots and cleaned it out after Katrina (because the OPSB was taking too long to make any decisions)? These nonprofit charter boards (Franklin included) use highly paid administrators who will do their bidding and get teachers to buy into “the program.” I am glad to see that at least one Ben Franklin graduate has posted a comment on behalf of the teachers, but this city is mired in corruption and political influence. Shame on the OPSB (charter authorizer of the Type 3 conversion charter school) and shame on the Deputy Superintendent of Charter Schools, Kathleen Padian, for not flexing their local muscles and using the resources at its disposal to monitor these nonprofit boards. Put the checklists away, and get into the business of what it is you were elected to do. It’s about academics. If teachers feel the need to unionize post-Katrina in a charter school environment, then there are problems. The question is, how secure are these teachers – and their confidence level is based on what? The Board’s word? Administrators’ word? Their teaching credentials? Their experience? Colleague support? UTNO? AFT? OMG!!!

  • Clay

    Um, yeah, Carroll Christian was shitcanned because she tried to embezzle funds from the school.

    Some of the teachers’ complaints almost certainly originate during the Carrol Christian-era.

  • jim randels

    Thanks and congratulations to the teachers of Ben Franklin High School for taking this important step on behalf of their students, colleagues, and school community to ensure continued high quality education at my alma mater. Their vision, leadership, and organized democratic action provide important lessons for all of us.

    Jim Randels
    Ben Franklin class of 1977

  • nickelndime

    BEN FRANKLIN HIGH SCHOOL UNIONIZATION: “Embezzle” is a strong word, Clay. Now, “trying to embezzle” has me falling off of my chair. That’s a joke, son. And Jim, I recognize your name. You have a dog in this fight, don’t you (?), as in an employer (UTNO)-employee relationship. Quite frankly, I think that the teachers at Ben Franklin High School should just…do nothing else. Perhaps, they will still have a job at the close of the school year. Having said that, I think the Franklin teachers need to politely keep their mouths shut and watch their backs (UTNO is of no use to you). And, as intelligent and as credentialed and as experienced as these teachers are, they need to forget what they believe to be correct AND what they think is professional in the field of education. The rules no longer apply. Now, if any of these teachers do not need to be employed, then I say, “Go for it.”

  • nickelndime

    FRANKLIN HIGH SCHOOL: Hey Arizonadude. Yeah, I think you got it, but I am going to extend it. “Those who have talent recognize those with latent talent and work to develop the talent in others.” IOW, them’s that got is them that gives. It’s called “Reaching out,” or, in educational circles, it’s called “Teaching out.” But this (valued lesson) was lost amid the corruption in Louisiana. Too bad.

  • Latono

    This is not the case. The majority of the teachers who worked under Carol Christen have left (or were forced to leave). The problems have arisen under the present administration, and seem to be a structural problem of an at-will employment system, in which retaining one’s job is based, not on performance, but on the goodwill of a single person.

  • Clay


    I’d like to make 1 more general point: BFHS is one of the finest high schools in the country (public, private, or parochial). It was built in to what it is by many, but I’d like to single out Tom Tewes. He had experience running NOCCA and really helped Franklin take flight. His leadership was like Dumbledore. He ran things with wisdom and kindness.

    Franklin sounds like it needs to find another Tom Tewes.

  • Clay

    steal or misappropriate (money placed in one’s trust or belonging to the organization for which one works).

    She wasn’t using the money for the benefit of the students. Shovelling cash to someone under your own roof is unseemly no matter what.

  • nickelndime

    FRANKLIN HIGH SCHOOL: Hats off to Latono. Couldn’t have said it better: “…problems have arisen under the present administration…structural problem of an at-will employment system, in which retaining one’s job is based…on the goodwill of a single person.” Clay, I do not know where you have gotten your information, but the former Principal was no thief, of that I am sure, and as far as shoveling funds to someone under her own roof, that may have been the story offered for public consumption, but that is a far cry from the truth. The Franklin Board was in such a mess and in such disarray, following the ouster of C.C., that it could not even put together the financial records for the audit. This lasted a couple of years. IOW, C.C. was doing the work at least 10 individuals, and for which the nonprofit charter board now pays excessive administrative costs (salaries) to get the job done, formerly done by one really good individual. This is a sorry state of affairs of charter schools in New Orleans. I don’t know who is benefitting the most (surely, not the students), i.e., the law firms OR the excessive number of administrators (CEO, CAO, COO, CFO, Deans (by floors yet) being paid by taxpayer money by incompetent, unknowledgeable, inflated, (possibly/hopefully) good-intentioned charter boards. And, the OPSB, as the charter authorizer has been of no help, and considering its current problems, it does not appear that it will be of any help in the near future.

  • BobBarker

    Ummm – usually in the real world, only one person in an organization or department makes hiring and firing decisions. I am not sure why education would be any different. Am I missing something?

  • Latono

    Yes. In the brave new world of charter schools, certified teachers with many years of experience are being evaluated by people without Louisiana certification, and with lesser degrees of education. Also, in most of the real world, there is an appeals procedure in case an employee is fired not for cause. In a charter school such an employee must hire a lawyer; the case of Jodee
    Pulizzano at Benjamin Franklin is instructive.

  • Clay

    I will admit that Carroll Christian worked her tail off. I wouldn’t be surprised if her job needed others to take the full burden.

    Still, she was fired for a reason. If she was legitimately underpaid (for example, Reidlinger at Lusher gives herself a MUCH larger salary), she should have asked the board for permission to give herself a raise. What she did was, at best, shady, at worst illegal.