Exploring Arabic culture _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Mohammad Jodah, holding a cane, Bilal Nassar, Malik Abuali, Mohamed Mohamed and Amir Al-Shathri perform a Moroccan dance on Jan. 13 at the International High School of New Orleans.

Teachers at another local charter school, the International High School of New Orleans, are pushing to unionize, hoping among other things to improve their job security in a city where most teachers now are at-will employees.

Teachers announced Wednesday that more than 70 percent of the faculty have asked the school’s governing board to recognize them as a chapter of the United Teachers of New Orleans, the union that represented the city’s teachers for decades before losing its position after Hurricane Katrina and the state takeover of most local schools that followed.

More than a decade later, UTNO has started to re-establish at least a foothold in the city’s decentralized public schools system, setting up bargaining agreements tailored to individual schools.

IHSNO is the fourth charter to link up with UTNO. Just a few days ago, teachers at Lusher Charter School asked their own board for the same recognition.

“There is no doubt about it; we’re seeing a very real trend here in New Orleans,” UTNO President Larry Carter said. “Charter school educators want a voice in their schools’ decisions that affect teaching and learning, and they want fairness in the workplace and job security.”

The other charters affiliated with UTNO are Morris Jeff Community School and Benjamin Franklin High School, though only Franklin has finalized a bargaining pact, which was approved last year.

Lusher Charter School’s board on Saturday narrowly rejected a petition signed by 60 percent of its teachers seeking union recognition, with some board members saying they were concerned that a majority of teachers did not really support the idea.

The National Labor Relations Board is expected to oversee an election at Lusher in the near future that could override the board’s vote.

There is at least one common factor among the schools where union efforts have popped up: All are rated A or B under the state’s letter grade system. Two have selective admissions: Franklin is the highest-rated school in the state, while Lusher is the 11th-ranked school.

Teachers have pushed for union representation for a variety of reasons. Many want more say in their school’s decision-making. Teachers at Franklin were upset to discover disparities in pay. Lusher’s teachers want more safety from layoffs.

In Franklin’s case, a new union bargaining agreement prohibits administrators from firing a teacher employed for longer than two years without showing just cause.

At International High, a B-rated, nonselective school with an International Baccalaureate program, teachers are making a similar case for union protections.

Unionized teachers “are able to maximize student potential while having protections in place that ensure job security,” math teacher Frank Ruzicka said.

“I’m proud to be a member of this faculty, and I believe that through collaboration and transparency, we can make our school even better,” math teacher Cole Mills said.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.