This post has been updated and corrected with more details on the contract, provided by the UFT
On Friday Geoff Decker of GothamSchools reported on the renegotiated contract between New York's United Federation of Teachers and Green Dot, the California-based charter school operator whose schools are all unionized. Two years after the first Green Dot/UFT agreement was drafted, the union agreed once again to a contract that lacks both traditional tenure and seniority-based layoffs. The new contract also pays veteran Green Dot teachers a $2,000 bonus as a reward for raising test scores, and a base salary 20 percent higher than their traditional school counterparts.
New York state exempts charter schools from tenure law, so one of the union's goals in a contract negotiation like this one is to build back in some job security. In the case of Green Dot, teachers actually have a shorter probationary period than in a traditional public schools--just one year, compared to three--but they also agree to a system in which administrators have more say over layoffs of non-probationary teachers. Instead of seniority-based layoffs, as in the traditional school contract, the union and administration will meet at the bargaining table in the event of layoffs to determine what "equitable criteria" should be used.
Green Dot teachers will be evaluated according to the principles enshrined in New York State's Race to the Top application: 20 percent of the evaluation score will be based on student standardized test scores for grades and subjects in which they are available, 20 percent on other "local" measures of student academic growth, and 60 percent on classroom observation.
When a teacher is ineffective, Green Dot administrators must prove "just cause" before firing him or her, the same standard practiced within many non-unionized companies in order to avoid wrongful termination lawsuits--and the same standard called for to remove a tenured teacher in the traditional school contract. The difference is that at Green Dot, there is a streamlined, approximately 90-day grievance and arbitration process in which the union can appeal a dismissal, which negotiators expect to be less cumbersome and less likely to involve attorneys than the traditional Department of Education process.
After their first-year in the school, teachers grieve a discipline or dismissal decision to an indepdendent arbitrator. First-year teachers have no job security protections whatsoever The grievances of first-year teachers are ruled upon not by the arbitrator, but by the school's board of trustees.
The teachers' union contracts of the future may look a lot like this one--if we start making much-needed improvements in teacher preparation and allow teachers to get more actively involved in the administration of their schools. (Big "ifs," I know.) When I had lunch with AFT President Randi Weingarten in August, we discussed the future of tenure, and she told me she could absolutely envision an entire urban district organized around the same principles as the Green Dot contract--in other words, without teacher "seniority" as we know it today. "The question," she said, "is how do you create an environment that is mission-driven and has a culture of fairness to it?"
Indeed, the Green Dot model calls for teams of teachers to be actively involved in hiring their peers; this is a highly-vetted workforce operating in an environment that emphasizes collegiality and professionalism. Without such healthy school environments, unions and teachers will have a hard time giving up the protections they've won because of a very real history of adminstrative overreach.