On Tuesday, teachers at Morris Jeff Community School approved a contract between the board and the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO). Union members and representatives of the school’s board of directors had been negotiating the contract for over a year. On Monday, board members unanimously backed the agreement.
What did teachers at Morris Jeff gain as a result of those negotiations? A review of the contract seems to indicate not all that much. Many of its clauses simply reiterate benefits that the school’s teachers already enjoy. Others are written so broadly it’s hard to determine whether they actually provide teachers with additional rights or protections. Plus, the contract makes clear that school leaders still retain ultimate decision-making authority over hiring, firing, job assignments, finances, and professional development.
In an interview with the Times-Picayune, union representatives highlighted a clause which says that teachers who have worked at the school for more than two years cannot be disciplined without just cause. However, this seems like a solution in search of a problem, since there’s no evidence that Morris Jeff administrators have acted otherwise. (Moreover, among the offenses listed to illustrate “just cause for immediate discharge” are incompetence, insubordination, neglect of duties, and even disparaging the school – i.e., it pretty much covers all the bases.)
Other aspects of the contract emphasized by the union to the Times-Pic, such as the creation of a joint teacher/administrator committee to develop a new process and tools for evaluating teachers, are more hype than substance. That’s because most of the teacher evaluation regulations specified in Bulletin 130 of Louisiana’s Administrative Code apply to charter schools and any Local Education Authority that wishes to deviate from the state’s Compass teacher evaluation framework must first submit their plan for approval by the Louisiana Department of Education.
Another misleading clause in the contract involves the procedure for layoffs. The contract outlines a number of criteria that must be considered when making layoff decisions, including the seniority, performance, qualifications, and promotion potential of each employee. It goes on to explain, in detail, how an employee’s length of service will be calculated, even though Act 1 of 2012 explicitly prohibits any public school from basing layoff decisions on seniority.
Perhaps the biggest change (and mistake) established by the contract is a formal grievance process, in which grievances can be ultimately settled through binding arbitration. The threat of grievances and arbitration is often used by teachers unions in disputes with school officials because the grievance process itself is punishment.
Nevertheless, when taken as a whole, the Morris Jeff contract is not the great victory UTNO and AFT portend it to be, which is a good thing for students, parents, and the broader Morris Jeff community.
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) June 22, 2016