Leaders of the KIPP charter schools are optimistic that they can reach a long-term agreement with the Baltimore Teachers Union in a nationally watched dispute over teacher pay for an extended school day, reducing the likelihood that the charter network will carry out its threat to close its two schools in that city.
Jason Botel, the executive director of KIPP Baltimore, said last week that the union had indicated its willingness to negotiate a 10-year agreement that “meets our needs.” If such a deal became final, he said, the KIPP organization would stop trying to push through the Maryland legislature a bill giving it flexibility to amend an existing collective bargaining agreement as long as 80 percent of teachers in a school agreed to it.
At issue is a desire by KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, not to pay teachers the full hourly rate specified in union contracts for working beyond the regular school day. Longer school days, and even some Saturday classes, are key to the teaching philosophy of the national KIPP network, which now includes 99 public schools in 20 states, and it’s also integral to several other charter school models across the country. The practice has raised questions over the years about whether those schools could sustain their programs without risking teacher burnout.
The KIPP school day in Baltimore is 9½ hours, or one-third longer than the contractual school day.
KIPP, however, negotiated a one-year deal with the Baltimore Teachers Union to pay teachers only 20.5 percent more for the longer school day. The charter operator won’t stay in Baltimore unless it can seal that same deal, which expires June 30, or a similar one, for 10 years, according to Mr. Botel.
“Our only interest is around providing the extra time, which is a component for KIPP,” Mr. Botel said. He said KIPP, a nonprofit organization, can’t afford to pay teachers the full hourly rate for that extra time. That’s what the union requested but didn’t get back in 2008, he said.
“We are committed to paying as much as we can,” Mr. Botel said.
Officials of the Baltimore Teachers Union were noncommittal as of press time on whether an agreement would be reached. “As of right now, there is not a tentative agreement,” Jessica Aldon, a public relations specialist for the union, said March 9.
Meanwhile, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, of which the Baltimore union is an affiliate, made public her distaste for KIPP’s approach to getting what the charter operator wanted in Baltimore. Jay Mathews, a columnist for The Washington Post, reported that Ms. Weingarten had called him up and given him an earful of complaints.
Mr. Mathews wrote in his Class Struggle column published March 4 that Ms. Weingarten was annoyed that KIPP had gone to the press with its threat to close schools before giving negotiations with the union a chance. Mr. Mathews is the author of a 2009 book about KIPP whose subtitle called its schools “the most promising” in America. He is a member of the board of Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week.
Exception to the Rule
Created to help enable educators to pursue different approaches by operating free of most regulations that govern other public schools, charter schools in most cases are not unionized. Only 604, or 12.3 percent, of the nation’s charter schools had collective bargaining agreements with teachers’ unions during the 2009-10 school year, according to the Washington-based National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
But Baltimore happens to be in a state that requires charter school teachers to be members of a union. Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, and Virginia have the same kind of requirement that Maryland does.
The national charter school alliance would like to see those laws repealed, said Todd Ziebarth, the group’s vice president for state advocacy and support, arguing they undermine charter schools’ flexibility.
A national advocacy organization for charter schools collected data from the 2009-10 school year about the status of teachers’ unions in those independent public schools:
Schools unionized in 2009-10: 7%
Thirty-two, or 7 percent, of charter schools opened in the 2009-10 school year have staffs affiliated with a teachers’ union.
Total schools unionized: 12.3%
Overall, 604 charter schools, or 12.3 percent of all the charters nationwide, have collective bargaining agreements with teachers’ unions.
States requiring unionization: 5 states
All charter school teachers in five states—Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, and Virginia—are unionized, as required by laws there.
Union affiliation: 76%
The teachers in some three-fourths of unionized charter schools—76 percent—are affiliated with the National Education Association. Eleven percent of unionized charters are affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. Most of the rest are affiliated with both unions.
SOURCE: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
“Part of the charter bargain is more autonomy for higher levels of accountability for student results,” he said. “We increasingly know that really good instruction in the context of a longer school day or year is the way to go.”
In addition to restricting how charters pay teachers to work longer hours, collective bargaining typically restricts flexibility in how to evaluate teachers, he said.
It’s possible that Iowa may soon join the large number of states that don’t require charter schools to be unionized. The state’s House education committee has approved a bill that, besides expanding charter authorizers beyond school districts, would exclude charter schools from Iowa’s collective bargaining law.
Mastery Charter Schools, in Philadelphia, is a charter operator that does not employ any unionized teachers. Under its approach to compensation, it doesn’t assure every teacher of annual pay increases; instead, raises are tied to student results.
The charter operator runs seven schools in Philadelphia, including three that the school district turned over to it this school year as “restarts” under the federal School Improvement Grant Program.
Courtney Collins-Shapiro, the chief innovation officer for Mastery, said that the nonprofit organization negotiates annual contracts with its teachers with incentives for them to receive extra pay if their students perform well academically. She said students’ academic growth, not just a snapshot of their performance on tests, is factored into the equation.
“If you are a rock star, we’re going to compensate you,” she said. “If you are not performing, it’s not that you are a bad person, but maybe you should not be teaching, or you can get better.”
At the same time, Barbara Gerard, the principal of Academy Charter School in Palmer, Alaska, said her state’s law requiring that charter school teachers be unionized hasn’t been a constraint. She said negotiations went smoothly, for example, for her school to get a waiver of language in the standard teachers’ contract allowing Academy Charter to extend the school day by 20 minutes.
Being a unionized school “does allow us to have the big pool of certified staff who come to our school district through their human-resources department,” Ms. Gerard said. “It’s a positive.”
The Baltimore school district has authorized 28 charter schools in addition to the two run by KIPP Baltimore, Ujima Village Academy and Harmony Academy, according to Michael A. Sarbanes, the director of community engagement for the 84,000-student district. He said KIPP schools have the longest school day of any charter school in the city, possibly explaining why the negotiations between KIPP and the union have been more problematic than between other charters and the union.
He said that charter schools in the city address the extra-hours issue through one of three arrangements: They provide an extended school day through after-school programs that are optional for both teachers and students; they offer an extended day that’s required for students but not teachers and contract for overtime only with those teachers who step forward; or they require an extra-long day for both students and teachers.
KIPP schools fall into that last category. “Our hope and our expectation is that KIPP and the Baltimore Teachers Union will figure out a satisfactory arrangement so KIPP continues to serve our kids,” Mr. Sarbanes said.
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2011 edition of Education Week as KIPP and Teachers’ Union Go Toe to Toe in Baltimore