With a little more than two weeks left on its contract with the United Teachers of New Orleans and no negotiations under way, the Orleans Parish School Board refused Wednesday to extend the current contract, suggesting collective bargaining might soon disappear at the only four public schools in the city where it is in effect.
About 100 union members wearing T-shirts that read "refuse to lose" filed out of the meeting in the City Council chambers immediately after the vote, singing "Solidarity Forever."
Union President Brenda Mitchell said they have been asking the district to meet them at the bargaining table since March, but to no avail.
Board members Heidi Daniels, Phyllis Landrieu, Jimmy Fahrenholtz and Lourdes Moran opposed a motion by Torin Sanders to extend the union's current contract for 45 days beyond June 30, when it is scheduled to expire. Collective bargaining expires along with the contract.
However, the new landscape of public education in New Orleans has left little room for collective bargaining, with a combination of charters and state-takeover schools that are not subject to the union's agreement and can employ teachers on year-to-year contracts. Only the four schools still operated by the local district are subject to the agreement.
In November the Legislature voted to take over 107 of 128 district schools that were performing below the state average and place them in a recovery district run by the state.
Although she voted for the 45-day contract extension, School Board member Una Anderson said she does not support continuing the collective bargaining. "I think we all realize the world has changed around us," she said.
Nonetheless, a committee of three board members will continue to meet with union members about "student performance and accountability," Daniels said.
However, Anderson said the committee should talk with the union about a "chartering format."
During a break in the meeting, Mitchell said Anderson approached her earlier in the day about the possibility of the union applying for charters to operate the district's remaining four schools.
But Mitchell said she would not be interested in that option because she thinks the four district schools should remain public schools in the classic sense.
Even if collective bargaining does meet its death at the end of this month, Mitchell swore the union will "keep working" and actively recruit members in the state-run recovery district schools.
Several board members denied Wednesday's vote was part of a concerted effort to let collective bargaining expire.
"At this point the district has not decided where it's going to go in terms of unions and collective bargaining," School Board attorney Regina Bartholomew said.
The loss of collective bargaining would afford the district vastly more freedom in its ability to hire and fire teachers.
In other business, the board voted unanimously to let two recently approved charter schools, Hynes and Moton elementary schools, operate out of trailers on the property of two damaged schools, Gregory Middle and Coghill Elementary.
The decision amounts to little more than a recommendation to the state, which has the final say over what occurs at Gregory and Coghill, which are both recovery district campuses. All usable buildings left under the local system's control are now occupied by district or charter schools, and the recovery district has authority over all the campuses it took over.
Although the state is planning to open many of the buildings they took over in September, the Coghill and Gregory buildings are too damaged to reopen.
Last month the board voted to give a building that now houses the Lusher School's extension campus to Audubon Charter School, giving the Uptown school that emphasizes French and Montessori curricula a second campus that allows it to increase its capacity from 450 to 850.
Meanwhile, the Lusher School is assuming control of the Fortier High School building, where it will open a selective-admissions high school in the fall, complementing its existing elementary school.
However, the May board decision irked officials with the Moton Elementary Charter Association because they also had designs on the Lusher Extension building at South Carrollton and St. Charles avenues. Moton's original building in eastern New Orleans is too damaged to reopen this year.
The board's decision to give the Lusher Extension campus to Audubon also asked the state to allocate a building for Moton to use in the fall, because the local board has essentially run out of undamaged, available campuses.
State Education Department spokeswoman Meg Casper said they're "close to agreement" with officials from the Moton and Hynes charters to let them put trailers at Coghill and Gregory.
Steve Ritea can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3396.