Bronx Charter School and the Teachers Union Sign a Contract

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A Bronx charter school has reached an agreement with the city's teachers union, signing a contract that would grant the teachers and staff at the school modest wage increases and expanded job protection, but unlike their counterparts in unionized city schools, no provision for tenure.

The teachers at the Bronx Academy of Promise Charter School voted to unionize more than a year ago, but it wasn't until a few days ago that the school's board of trustees and the United Federation of Teachers were able to agree on a contract.

That 16-page document, signed on Oct. 14, will mean that teachers who have worked at the school for two years or more cannot be disciplined or fired without just cause.

The union has contracts to represent teachers and staff at eight other charter schools in the city, and is in talks with four others.

In the majority of city schools that are under the union contract, principals must follow a lengthy process to fire a tenured teacher. In contrast, the contract with the Bronx Academy of Promise winnows down the dismissal process to four steps that culminate in arbitration. If arbitrators find that the principal has made a compelling case for dismissing the teacher, that decision will be final.

The contract offers less protection to teachers who have worked for fewer than two years. Throughout their service, they can be fired for any reason and at any time, much like their un-tenured peers in city schools. And the contract does not give any teachers, no matter how long they have worked at the school, a way to earn tenure. Union officials said this is because New York State's law establishing charter schools exempts them from the tenure law.

Union officials said that under the new contract, school staff will receive a 2.6 percent raise. Most teachers will earn roughly what Department of Education teachers make, officials said, but some will make less because of differences in the pay scales.

The Bronx Academy of Promise leases private space, leaving it with less money to spend on salaries and benefits, officials said. A contract the union is negotiating with the Green Dot New York Charter School would pay teachers 20 percent more than what city teachers earn.

The contract also permits the Bronx Academy of Promise to add 10 days to the school year and it requires the school's board to reach an agreement with the union on a new teacher evaluation system that will begin next year.

Union officials said the contract is one of several they are in the midst of negotiating with charter schools like Merrick Academy and the New York City Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries.

"The Bronx Academy of Promise contract will send a message to charter schools that there is a way to do this in partnership with the teachers and the union," said Leo Casey, a U.F.T. vice president who worked on the contract negotiations.

But James D. Merriman, chief executive of the New York City Charter School Center, said it's unlikely that many more charter schools will be tempted to make the switch.

"As long as the U.F.T. is bringing lawsuits that threaten charter schools' very existence, and the jobs of teachers in those schools, it's hard to imagine the U.F.T. making much headway, particularly with high-performing schools," he said in a statement.

"It would be great, however, if the flexibility in this contract is something that the U.F.T. would put forward as it renegotiates its contract with the D.O.E."

Opened in fall 2008, the Bronx Academy of Promise school has not had an easy few years. During its first year, the school's board brought in Imagine School, a charter management organization, and agreed to pay the company 12 percent of its revenue as a fee. But before the year was over, the board has broken its contract with Imagine.

There were also complications with the school's location. Though plans were for it to occupy a 93-year-old South Bronx courthouse, it wound up in a window-less brick building a mile away.