KIPP, teachers union reach 10-year agreement

A Baltimore charter school network that had threatened to shut down in June reached an agreement in principle with the Baltimore Teachers Union minutes before testimony was set to begin in Annapolis on a bill that would have given city charters more flexibility in dealing with union rules.

KIPP, or the Knowledge is Power Program, will stay in Baltimore for the next decade under the agreement that gives the school the long-term stability to invest in its buildings as well as raise money for its schools. KIPP agreed to shorten its workday from 91/2 hours to nine hours and pay teachers 20 percent more than the average city teacher makes, down from 20.5 percent.

"It happened very quickly. We moved into serious conversations this week. We are thrilled that we got to this place," said Steve Mancini, a spokesman for KIPP, a charter school network that has an elementary and a middle school in Baltimore and would like to open more schools in the city.

The school had come into conflict with the union because its program offers students a long school day, after-school activities and Saturday school. The union said that despite the fact that KIPP paid teachers more than any other school in the city, it was not paying them at the same union rate for the longer hours. The new agreement is similar to a one-year agreement that had been struck last year.

"We heard our members loud and clear. KIPP teachers stated they love their school and their students and want to keep working at KIPP. This agreement satisfies everyone and allows the success of our students and our school system to continue," Marietta English, president of the union, said in a statement.

Under the agreement, the teachers will not have to work on Saturday, Mancini said. In addition, the school will set aside money this year to ensure that it can pay teachers an additional 20 percent if education funding for public schools declines this year.

"We can do what we need to do with the nine hours and the summer school. This is sufficient time to deliver on our program," Mancini said. "We feel confident we can continue the track record of success and maintain fiscal stability as well."

The sponsors of the bills, which would allow 80 percent of teachers to vote on their working conditions including pay, will pull the legislation after an agreement has been signed.

While opponents of the bill wearing yellow T-shirts saying Baltimore Teachers Union jammed the hearing room next to parents wearing "KIPP Save Our Schools" buttons, the negotiations continued in Baltimore.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, the bill's sponsor, put the KIPP legislation at the end of a long list of bills being heard Wednesday to give negotiators more time.

But before the bill was called, KIPP parents went to an empty room, where Rosenberg announced that an agreement had been reached. Parents and teachers shouted and began to cry.

"We were so loud that they had to bring security to tell us to calm down. The teachers were excited. And we were happy that we did our part for the school," said Kevin Sherald, parent of a first-grader.

The scene was also emotional for Rosenberg. "To give the news about the agreement to the 100 parents of KIPP students gathered in Annapolis to testify for the bill and share their joy is a moment that I have never experienced before and never will forget," he said.

KIPP's middle school, Ujima Village Academy, opened in 2002 and consistently beats high-performing middle schools like Roland Park Middle on state tests. The school has a high number of students who qualify for subsidized lunches because of poverty. In 2009, KIPP opened an elementary school, KIPP Harmony Academy.

"KIPP is going to be in Baltimore for a long time to come," said Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored a companion bill. "Our schools are moving so fast forward and KIPP is one exciting piece of that."

Even though the bill might not have passed, Rosenberg said the hearing was a powerful motivator because "it brings everyone to the bargaining table."

For parents who were in Annapolis to support the bill, the scene was breathtaking, said Sherald. "This is the first time the parents have really been part of something of this nature. … All we knew was that our kids needed an education."

Baltimore Sun reporters Erica L. Green and Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.