More than a decade after Hurricane Katrina led to radical New Orleans education reforms that crippled the city’s once-powerful teachers union, a third charter school’s faculty wants to rejoin that union’s fold.
A majority of the teachers at Lusher Charter School, a high-performing Uptown school encompassing kindergarten through 12th grade, signed a petition to join the United Teachers of New Orleans, the local arm of the American Federation of Teachers.
UTNO, once a 5,000-member group, lost its dominance when the state took over most of the city’s public schools, and it has not had a citywide collective bargaining agreement for teachers since 2006.
But recent teacher organizing drives — first in 2013 among Morris Jeff Community School teachers, who linked up with the separate Louisiana Association of Educators before dropping that group for UTNO, and then in 2014 among Benjamin Franklin High School teachers — have showcased the union’s resurgence, albeit on a much smaller scale than before Katrina.
UTNO has been on the hunt for charter school teachers to organize since at least 2013, when it requested names, contact information and other data from at least three dozen of the city’s independent schools.
The union’s president, Larry Carter, praised Lusher’s move this week. “We stand with the teachers of Lusher and with teachers in charters across New Orleans as they organize for a voice in their schools,” he said.
The national union has closely tracked its local affiliates’ organizing efforts in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, and its president, Randi Weingarten, said charter school teachers across the country are taking similar paths as the Lusher teachers.
Teacher unions remain controversial in New Orleans. Business lobbying groups and some education reformers have laid the blame for conventional school systems’ failings largely at the unions’ feet, though the unions insist they have been unfairly demonized and that providing teachers with job protection and training ultimately benefits children.
At least one of the recent drives, at Benjamin Franklin, seems to have been born at least partially out of frustration with charter schools, which by law do not have to adhere to a set pay scale or participate in public school teachers’ pension plans. Without a union contract, they also may fire teachers at will.
However, some Lusher teachers said they want to organize because they want more of a partnership with school administrators. “Granting teachers this voice will help us attract the highest-quality and most innovative teachers to our school and keep them,” said Julie Sanders, a social studies teacher. “Our students will benefit from programs designed with input from our highly qualified staff.”
The teachers must be recognized by Lusher’s independent governing board before they may begin negotiating a bargaining agreement.
That board will receive legal advice about the teachers’ request at a meeting Saturday, but it probably won’t vote on the matter until later this month, board President Blaine LeCesne said.
Either way, he said, Lusher’s board and its teachers “will do what’s in the best interest of the school, ultimately.”
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.