Tag Archives: UTNO

Going Old School with the Teachers’ Union

indexNew Orleans    I have hugely mixed feeling about my old high school in New Orleans, but finally I found myself in a situation, sitting next to another alum, my daughter, Dine’, where I found that I had never been prouder of the teachers at Benjamin Franklin High School than on that night in that auditorium.   In the long and bitter post-Katrina story, these were real heroes as 85% of the faculty had stepped forward and stood up by organizing the United Teachers of Franklin affiliated with the United Teachers of New Orleans, a local of the American Federation of Teachers.

Few will forget that one of the most ignominious stories of the aftermath of hurricane was the “never waste a crisis” mentality that found the school board terminating more than 5000 teachers and school employees and not reopening the schools in the fall of 2005, allowing the state and those trying to take over the system to seize most of the schools through the so-called Recovery School District and launch what continues to be the largest charter school pilot in the country.  Part of the collateral damage of course was also the devastation of UTNO, the largest, and arguably the strongest, union in New Orleans and voiding of all collective bargaining agreements.  Successful lawsuits filed at that time for the termination and rehiring proved breeches of the contract and though they are still pending should add up to billions, if there was justice in any settlement.

The Franklin story was one of the travesties of that time, since not only was it universally seen as the best public high school in the city and state, but it was also ranked annually as one of the top schools in the country.  The charterization of the school was little more than unaccountable and unconscionable re-purposing of a huge public asset by an insider group wanting less interference from the elected school board, read African-American, leadership in the overall supervision of the school.  Sitting at the public hearing called by the board on the question of whether to recognize the Franklin teachers’ union, no one commented on the fact that in this majority African-American city the board sitting in the front rows lacked any African-American representation, but that’s another story.

The teachers were eloquent in making their presentation.  They wanted equity, rather than a wildly arbitrary pay scale benefiting “picks and chooses” of the principal, now being paid $172,000 according to the on-line Lens report, they wanted job security rather than an annual application process, and they wanted a voice in educational policy from their position in the classroom rather than lectures from lawyers and accountants.  Who could disagree?  As it turned out almost no one.  Parents and students spoke in support of the teachers.  A couple of alums demonstrated their anti-union animus in one case offending the teachers by calling them “amateurs” in a misplaced point about Latin roots, and in another case just sort of whining about the surprise to hear of a union and the wishing it would all go away.

I had my 2-minutes to express solidarity in behalf of our family.   It was easy to punch holes in the notion of “collaboration” when collective bargaining better expressed – and guaranteed – such a voice.  It was easy to remind everyone there that it was teachers and students that every study and all personal experience proved made education work and not “bricks and sticks.”   It was even easy to remind the crowd that the values of the school itself spoke to allowing these special teachers to have a special voice.  Finally, as an organizer of a union, I was able to remind them that the teachers already had built a union, now they had to get used to it.

Larry Carter, the head of UTNO, spoke shortly after I did and reminded them that UTNO was no longer the old UTNO and that the teachers at Franklin now had their own, almost autonomous union chapter.  He didn’t say that it was all different now because if the Franklin teachers are able to win a contract, they will be the only teachers in New Orleans to have organized independently and done so and won a contract on their own.  The anti’s were at best fighting ghosts.  The teachers were fighting for the future.

That’s the true Franklin spirit, and as proud as I was of the teachers, for a change I was even proud to say that I was a Franklin graduate.


Finally Days of Reckoning for Hijacked New Orleans School System


New Orleans Charter School

New Orleans In the wake of Hurricane Katrina the State of Louisiana conspired with various conservative interests to break the largest union in the state, the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO/AFT), fire 7500 school district employees, many of whom were members, remove democratic accountability in a state coup against the elected school board, and use federal Bush money to hijack the system creating the largest charter school system in the country.  Now, almost 6 years after Katrina a reckoning is finally coming, though there is no guarantee that citizens will be able to reassert accountability over our schools at least we will have an opportunity to try.  Several forces are coming together to make this possible.

A lawsuit filed after the storm has been approved as a class action in the name of teachers and principals and is being heard today about the illegal usurpation of the system which voided protected and contractually guaranteed layoff procedures including notice, creation of a layoff list by seniority, and other basic requirements of just process.  The state and the business community were in such a hurry to break the union and steal the school system from New Orleans taxpayers and voters that no rules or rights were allowed to stand in their way.  A system that has now been beat down from over 7000 employees to less than 600 because of the privatization of the schools into charters is not going to suddenly say “I’m sorry,” but some justice is long overdue, and the price could be steep.

At the same time the autocratic czar of the state education system is finally moving out of the way after a contentious several years which is allowing long silenced voices to finally be heard.  This does not just mean the that “amateur hour” is over as a state teachers’ union called the insertion of cheap and untrained labor from Teach for America and other Gates and billionaire funders, but it does mean that the silenced voices of experienced teachers with 20 and 30 years in good system are pushing back, including some who have been elected to head school boards in other big Louisiana districts that escaped the Katrina hijacking but are appropriately concerned about the both the unwarranted charter takeover, the lack of accountability, and the unfilled promises of test-based teaching.  For all of the sound and fury of the presumptuous and undemocratic “reformers,” they have not produced the improvements that their “ends justify the means” strategy tried to claim.

In short if you live and die by testing, and the needle doesn’t sufficiently move on the tests, then real teachers with real training and real lifetime commitments to children and education are going to be hard to continue to ignore.  Then no matter how many so-called “business leaders” are going to trumpet the union busting and the privatization or how many billionaires with private school background are going to try and impose their will, parents who are responsible for seeing their children actually learn something other than what is like to be part of a test tube lab experiment for school privatization and teachers who know what they are doing, are eventually going to come together in a coalition , unite at the ballot box and finally straighten this mess out.