Charter is set to open as contract is rejected


An Annapolis charter school plans to open next month despite uncertainty about whether school organizers and the Anne Arundel County teachers union can reach a labor agreement that will satisfy school board members.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith said he is deeply concerned about whether KIPP Harbor Academy can open its introductory program before a contract for the school year has been approved. This week, school board members rejected a contract negotiated by the teachers union and the academy.

If KIPP cannot reach an agreement, schools would have to scramble to reallocate teachers and materials to accommodate its 80 enrolled students, he said.

"We might find ourselves over a weekend having to reschedule schools," Smith said. The superintendent also said he worries that parents and teachers will expect the school to open in the fall if the three-week introductory program begins next month.

KIPP officials have said that for the summer they plan to follow the contract that governs all teachers in the district.

As a result, district officials cannot stop KIPP from opening, said P. Tyson Bennett, the school board's attorney.

KIPP, one of two charter schools that has been approved in Anne Arundel County, still needs the school board's approval to pay three teachers 20 percent more to work an extended school day and week. The school is targeting low-performing pupils, particularly black pupils.

Publicly funded charter schools can operate somewhat separately from school systems, choosing their own curricula and methodology. But their teachers are employees of the school district and are subject to the district's contract with the teachers union, which represents all of them.

County school officials instructed charter schools to negotiate agreements directly with the teachers union on labor issues.

Board's rejection

The school board voted 7-1 Wednesday to reject an agreement negotiated by KIPP and the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. Board members said they disagreed with a proposed grievance procedure and a requirement that teachers pay a share of union dues if not members, an arrangement known as "fair share."

"I don't see how the grievance policy or fair share addresses the particular needs of the school," board member Tricia Johnson of Davidsonville said during the meeting.

Board member Michael J. McNelly of Tracy's Landing voted for the agreement, saying the academy and teachers union had followed the school system's instructions.

B. Jallon Brown, who will be KIPP's principal, told the school board that the academy will pay its instructors $25 an hour, the same as other public school teachers who work in summer school.

KIPP organizers said they will return to the bargaining table.

"We're going to continue to negotiate with [the teachers union] and see if we can come up with something that is agreeable to all parties," Brown said after the meeting.

Teachers union leaders said they don't know how to change the agreement to meet the board's standards because the school board hasn't sent a representative to negotiate with KIPP and the union.

"They want us to continue to negotiate in a blind," said Bill Jones, the union's executive director and chief negotiator.

Bennett said the state's charter school law precludes the school district from participating in negotiations.

"It says two entities do [bargain], but the school board isn't one of them," he said.

Fair share

"Fair share" was a contentious part of the school system's contract negotiations for next school year. State education officials declared impasse in April, which ended last month with an agreement for a 4 percent cost-of-living increase and a promise to discuss fair share next year.

Teachers union president Sheila M. Finlayson said that pledge seemed disingenuous after the board rejected KIPP.

"It calls into question their sincerity about bargaining fair share in the fall," she said.

Jones told the board that the union would not use approval of fair share for KIPP as a way to get it into the contract for all teachers. He did say it might use it as an example during future negotiations, however, if it works well at KIPP.

School board president Edward P. Carey of Brooklyn Park said yesterday that the board did not want to approve fair share for teachers at KIPP or other schools without negotiating.

"We've wrapped up negotiations for this year," he said.

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