The Morris Jeff Community School’s board voted unanimously today to recognize its teachers union, which is backed by the United Teachers of New Orleans.

It’s not the first time the Mid-City charter board has voted to recognize a union at the school. Two years ago, the board recognized the Morris Jeff Association of Educators. Tonight’s move, in effect, recognized that a majority of teachers petitioned to move to the UTNO-supported group.

If the board reaches an agreement with the bargaining unit, it could become just the second charter school in the state to do so. Ben Franklin High School’s governing board approved a contract in March, after eight months of negotiations.

UTNO is the union’s exclusive collective-bargaining agent. Audra George of the American Federation of Teachers was present, and she said negotiations would begin in the coming weeks.

Teachers and staff wearing “proud to be charter and union” buttons filled almost every seat in the library, along with some parents and community members. They broke into roaring applause after the board voted.

“I think democracy is a wonderful thing but consensus is much better,” board member Irvin Bell said as he introduced the topic.

He said he hoped all would be heard in the upcoming bargaining process, rather than the loudest or strongest voices.

“We’re undertaking a process that is not only going to be time-intensive but is going to cost money,” member Amanda Butler said.

She urged quick work to make the best use of both of those resources. At a previous meeting,  Butler said the cost of negotiating Franklin’s contract was $150,000, according to a Mid-City Messenger article.

At its March meeting, the Morris Jeff board hired attorney Joseph Hugg to negotiate on its behalf.

After Bell introduced a motion to recognize the union, third-grade teacher Rowan Shafer made a few remarks. She helped organize the first group.

“We are really proud to be here,” Shafer said, speaking on behalf of the group.

As she asked first parents, then community and finally staff members who supported the union to stand up, only a few of the 25 people in the room remained seated.

Parent Brooke Muntean also spoke in support.

“Just like this is a city of choice for parents…it is for teachers too,” Muntean said.

Muntean works in higher education but said should she return to the classroom, she would apply at Ben Franklin or Morris Jeff, which is “not a coincidence.”

After the board unanimously raised seven thumbs up, literally — that’s the board’s signal for a yea vote — Bell asked for a short recess and shook hands with almost everyone in the room.

Board President Heather Schwartz said she was happy and feels like the board has heard the teachers. She said a timeline for the bargaining process had not been established.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...