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The nation’s preeminent charter school organization, Green Dot Public Schools, and its largest teacher union local, the United Federation of Teachers, signed an innovative and pioneering collective bargaining agreement on June 23 for Green Dot’s New York City charter school. The contract was approved by the Board of Trustees of the Green Dot school on Monday, June 22, and was ratified by the UFT Chapter the following day.

The 29 page agreement breaks vital new ground, and not simply because it brings together leading forces in the ranks of the charter school movement and teacher unionism. Just as importantly, the contract embodies a new model of labor relations in education, based on a disarmingly simple proposition: that a school which respects, nurtures and supports teacher professionalism in all of its work will provide the best education for students.

“At its core, this contract is about shared expectations and shared responsibility. Our educators are being asked to take a leading role in the success of their school, and they’re being provided with the professional supports needed to help make that success possible,” said UFT and AFT President Randi Weingarten.

“Green Dot has had great success in working with the unionized teaching force in Los Angeles and we are looking forward to continuing our partnership with Randi Weingarten and the United Federation of Teachers in New York,” said Green Dot Public Schools founder and Chairman, Steve Barr.

Here are the main features of the agreement:

* A Just Cause Standard for discipline and dismissal, in effect from the first day of employment for teachers and guidance counselors, and a system of Progressive Discipline. * Due Process, with a four step grievance process that culminates in binding arbitration.

* Professional Mediation, with a broad scope that allows it to be used to address any school based issue or disagreement.

* Educators work an un-timed “Professional Day” which requires that they be on-site during the student day, staff meetings, professional development, and preparation time. The school year has a base of the same number of days as the annual NYC Department of Education calendar, with eight additional staff development days. A school Calendar and Programming Committee, with the majority of its members democratically chosen by the UFT chapter from its members, has the authority to reconfigure the NYC Department of Education school calendar, with the ratification of the majority of the staff.

* Reflecting the longer “professional day” and work year, educators are paid a 14% Pay Premium above the NYC Department of Education salary scale, with a top salary of over $114,000. 4% of the school’s budget is reserved for Stipends, paid to educators for services beyond their usual responsibilities. A Stipend Committee, with the majority of its members democratically chosen by the UFT chapter from its members, makes all the decisions on how that stipend budget is spent.

* The contract sets a Maximum Class Size of 30 and a maximum student-teacher ratio for the entire school of 20 to 1. For the first time in any educational collective bargaining agreement, the contract sets a Maximum Student Load for teachers of 130 students. [As a point of comparison, a NYC Department of Education high school teacher in the main academic subjects could see as many as 170 students every day.]

* To provide for Teacher Voice and Leadership, the contract establishes a number of school committees, with the majority of their members democratically chosen by the UFT chapter from its members. In addition to the already cited Stipend and Calendar and Programming Committees, there are Leadership, Professional Development, Hiring and Budget Committees.

* Professional Evaluation: Teachers and guidance counselors will be evaluated based on Green Dot’s system for professional evaluation and support which includes the development of personal goals, the evaluation of progress against those goals, and the development of up to two intervention/corrective action plans before disciplinary action can be taken. The principles of this system are drawn from the standards of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

* Benefits: Employees participate in a GHI and HIP plan modeled after the plan for NYC municipal employees, the UFT Welfare Fund, and the Teacher Retirement System, the city’s pension plan for teachers.

* Leaves of Absences: Employees can take up to a 10 month leave for childbirth and rearing, up to 200 days of which can be paid and up to 6 months with full benefits. Other eligible leaves include military, jury duty, bereavement, and religious observance.

The ethos of the contract is one that places a premium on teacher voice and democracy in the workplace. It is rooted in the firm conviction that schools are successful when they recruit and retain the very best professional educators and give them the means to educate their students. In response to a question at the signing, Barr said that the existence of the just cause standard and due process were a strong “comparative advantage” for Green Dot in recruiting the best career educators who do not want to go into the “at will mosh pits” of some charter schools.