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UPDATED: Unionized Boston Charter Will Decide New Pay Structure

Here's another feather in American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten's cap: A Boston school and the union's Massachusetts affiliate have approved the state's first charter school contract.

And in an example of the innovative labor-management ideas Weingarten asserts such arrangements can breed, the contract will allow teachers and administrators in the Conservatory Lab Charter School, in Boston, significant autonomy over how pay decisions are made.

The details of the differential pay program will be hashed out during the 2009-10 school year by a committee of teachers and administrators formed to come up with the pay plan. Teachers will get traditional raises that year, and the program will go into effect for the 2010-11 school year (though the contract will allow it to be tweaked after that).

The only stipulation in the contract about this pay program is that it can't be based on student test scores, said Thomas Gosnell, the president of AFT Massachusetts. Other measures of student performance would be allowable, he added.

Teachers won't be able to appeal performance-based-pay decisions once the program is in place. So there is a strong incentive to get the details of the program right upfront.

What happens if the committee can't agree on the structure of the program? "I certainly hope that won’t be the case," Gosnell told me."I would hope they can come to an agreement, because this is real opportunity to set up some collaboration."

In the worst-case scenario, the management would apparently have the right to create the program, he indicated.

Although pay is clearly of interest, it actually wasn't the main reason teachers sought a union, Gosnell said. They wanted more input in decisionmaking and felt a contract would allow for more "predictability" and less staff turnover, he said.

Aside from the performance-based-pay elements, the contract contains what Gosnell described as traditional seniority and due-process provisions.

Union members approved the contract in mid-August; the school's trustees approved it Sept. 15.

There could be more Massachusetts charter school action in the future. Although he couldn't identify any schools by name, Gosnell said that his union is in discussion with teachers at several other schools and is actively seeking to increase the number of unionized charter school teachers.

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"We devote a lot of time to this," he told me. "We strongly believe in organizing charter schools."

For background on the recent trend in charter school unionization, see this story.

UPDATED:
The school's management sent me a statement underscoring that the new contract preserves much of the hallmark autonomy and flexibility valued by the charter movement.

“This contract preserves the charter school ethos by reflecting a commitment to students, flexibility and innovation, as well as to the professionalism of teachers," said Head of School Diana Lam. "We see the contract as a win for students and teachers alike.”

Photo: A unionized charter school teacher, AFT Executive Vice President Lorretta Johnson, AFT President Randi Weingarten, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Green Dot founder Steve Barr, pose at a reception at the AFT's 2009 professional-issues conference in Washington. Green Dot, a charter-management organization, and the AFT's New York City affiliate reached a contract deal in June for a school in that city.

Photo Credit: Michael Campbell/American Federation of Teachers

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