Teachers at Benjamin Franklin High School exchanged hugs, handshakes and smiles after the board overseeing the school voted 9-1 on Thursday evening to recognize a union.

Board member Joseph Cao was the only dissenting voice when members cast their votes after a two-hour executive session, which The Lens objected to before the meeting. Cao said he understood the teachers’ frustrations, but believed that issues could be resolved without a union.

Board members Duris Holmes, Mark Baum, Carl Indest, Susan Weeks, Patricia Adams, Mark Mayer, Lester Alexander III, Ingrid Labat and Sandra Katz Levy voted yes.

Holmes said unionized faculty is not a new thing for Ben Franklin, and recognizing the union was the sensible move because more than 85 percent of the teachers signed the petition to unionize.

Faculty members expressed optimism and excitement about the future.

“The board’s name is Advocates for Academic Excellence in Education and they lived up to that name,” said math teacher Mark Quirk. “We look forward to working with the board and administration to maintain Franklin as the best public high school in the state.”

Franklin teachers will be part of the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. UTNO’s ranks were decimated by the state takeover of failing schools after Hurricane Katrina and OPSB’s decision to fire all its teachers. Like many teacher unions, UTNO had been criticized for protecting incompetent teachers from termination.

Franklin is the second charter school in New Orleans to recognize a teachers’ union, following Morris Jeff Community School last year.

Among the issues raised in the unionization effort and a public hearing last week were pay equity, timeliness of contract renewals and a fear of reprisal for raising concerns.

According to a Lens analysis, many teachers’ salaries diverge from the school’s pay scale. CEO Timothy Rusnak has said the scale is just a starting point for negotiations.

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