Ben Franklin board president: Extent of teachers’ complaints was unknown before union drive

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The board that governs Benjamin Franklin High School held a public hearing Thursday evening regarding a faculty petition to unionize.

The Lens live-blogged the meeting below.

If Franklin’s board approves the union, a move supported by 85 percent of the school’s faculty, Franklin would become the second charter school in New Orleans to organize.

Faculty are organizing for a number of reasons, including salaries. Though the school advertises a pay scale, the administration negotiates separately with each teacher. In some cases, teachers with similar backgrounds are paid different amounts.

Other issues: Teachers contend that contracts are renewed too late in the year, which makes it hard for a terminated teacher to find work elsewhere. Teachers also have been let go swiftly in the past, and some say those decisions weren’t fair.

After the meeting, board president Duris Holmes said that some of the teachers’ complaints were unknown to the board before Thursday night.

He said no one on the board has “firmly said no” to a union and that members are still trying to understand all points of view.

Some of the issues teachers raised, particularly contract renewals, are easily addressed, he said.

He also said that he thought teachers’ one-on-one salary negotiations “works like it should work,” but the board is open to discussing changes.

The faculty want to affiliate themselves with United Teachers of New Orleans, a chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

That union represented the city’s public school teachers before Hurricane Katrina. Its ranks were decimated after the state took over the city’s schools and the Orleans Parish School Board didn’t renew its collective bargaining agreement.

Ben Franklin’s board plans to vote on the matter May 15.

Live blog

Charter schools reporter Fritz Esker contributed to this story.

This story was updated after the hearing with Duris Holmes’ comments. (May 8, 2014)

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