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Tentative agreement reached with union, KIPP charter organizers


Organizers of a planned Annapolis charter school have a tentative agreement with the Anne Arundel County teachers union that they hope school board members will approve.

"We feel very confident that the new agreement will prove to be satisfactory to the board," said Lizz Pawlson of the KIPP Harbor Academy.

Two weeks ago, school board members voted 7-1 to reject a proposed agreement offered by KIPP and the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County because of a disagreement with two provisions.

Charter schools receive public funds but operate with some freedom from school system control. In Maryland, however, charter teachers are still school district employees. As a result, they must negotiate any unique working conditions with the county teachers union.

Leaders of KIPP Harbor Academy, who are planning to hold an introductory summer program at the school next month, had spent months bargaining over an agreement to pay its teachers about 20 percent more to work an extended school day and week.

County school board members rejected an agreement two weeks ago that included the extra-pay provision because they disagreed with two other provisions regarding mediation of employee disputes and a requirement that nonmembers pay a portion of union dues - also known as "fair share."

School board member Tricia Johnson of Davidsonville said charter schools are required to negotiate with the union items that are specific to the needs of their program - such as the longer day.

Johnson said yesterday that she believed that removing the "fair share" and mediation provisions would "alleviate any concern" that her colleagues on the board may have.

School board President Edward P. Carey said the board would likely consider the proposed agreement at its July 6 meeting.

Sheila M. Finlayson, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said her group wants to "work with" KIPP officials.

"We are not going to be the obstructionist for this whole thing," she said. "We're not going to put up barriers."

"Fair share" was one of the deciding factors during recent contract talks between the teachers union and school system. The two parties ended a monthlong impasse with an agreement that included a deal to negotiate the nonmember requirement.

However, Finlayson said the board's reluctance to approve the original agreement makes her doubt the sincerity of board members' promise to permit discussion of "fair share" in the future. Under state law, both groups must agree to bargain over this topic.

"The board is not being forthright when they said they wanted to talk about fair share," she said. "This is an opportunity to get the ball rolling in the right direction."

As of Wednesday, 85 rising fifth-graders had signed up to attend the school, which hopes to help children in the Annapolis area who have traditionally performed poorly.

Should board members vote this down, KIPP leaders say that under the master contract that governs teachers throughout the county, they can still open in the fall and compensate teachers who elect to work the longer day.

"This is the final hurdle that needed to be overcome for the school to be open for summer school in July," said Steve Mancini, spokesman for KIPP, or Knowledge is Power Program. The organization operates nearly 40 schools nationwide.

Mancini added that the agreement "builds on the partnership we've established" with the teachers union.

KIPP hopes to raise achievement among traditionally underperforming middle-schoolers, starting with a class of fifth-graders. KIPP will open in Annapolis Area Christian School. The school system must still approve facilities in order for KIPP and the Chesapeake Science Point public charter school, which hopes to open a math and technology-focused program in Glen Burnie, to open in the fall.

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