One year since the organizers of charter network High Tech High’s recently formed union began bargaining with the school’s management team, the two sides have reached a tentative agreement on a contract. The contract gives educators a restructured pay scale and retroactive pay increases, guaranteed lunch breaks, an established teacher evaluation process and a limit on class sizes.
“It’s a huge victory for teachers in our effort to stabilize our schools and bring (High Tech High’s) design principles in line with its practice,” Hayden Gore, a High Tech High educator and the union’s president, wrote in an email.
The tentative agreement also gave the union a victory on a key outstanding point that led in part to the two sides deadlocking in late November.
That main sticking point was who had the final say if a teacher fired for cause appealed their firing. The union argued it should be a panel with representatives from the union, school leadership and a neutral third party. The school’s leadership wanted it to be the charter’s CEO.
Educators at High Tech High have long been frustrated by what they saw as a culture of arbitrary firings that could not be appealed. If school leadership were to retain the final say, educators feared they would be stuck with that de facto at-will employment system that could negate any of the benefits they bargained for. The tentative agreement they reached would give a neutral third party that crucial final say.
According to data gathered for Voice of San Diego’s 2021 Parent’s Guide to San Diego Schools, High Tech High schools have some of the least experienced teachers of any school in the county. Of the over 600 schools throughout the county for which average years of teacher experience was collected, 10 of the 13 schools with the least experienced teachers were High Tech High campuses.
The other sticking point was how long of a probationary period High Tech High educators would have before becoming established teachers. School management asked for a 3-year introductory period, while the union wanted a 2-year period. Ultimately, the two sides agreed to a 3-year period.
Gore said the final contract was a “definite tradeoff,” but that the union’s main goal was to ensure their first contract allowed for an appeal process that didn’t end with the CEO.
“Because we understand that if we don’t have due process, if we don’t have a grievance process that ends in a neutral third party, particularly when teachers have been wrongfully terminated, then we don’t really have much of a contract to stand on at all,” Gore said.
The contract is not yet official. High Tech High’s board still needs to ratify the agreement. It plans to bring it up for a vote at its Jan. 25 meeting. The union’s bargaining unit members also still need to vote to ratify the agreement. If the contract is ratified, it will be in effect through the 2024-2025 school year.
“This is big news and the first step in the right direction that we (HTH and HTEC) believe will provide a framework for sustainability and stability for our community, families, and students for years to come,” wrote Kaleb Rashad, High Tech High’s interim CEO, and Gary Jacobs, the board chair, in a statement emailed to the charter network’s staff and families.
Gore agreed that this was a significant first step but added that there was still much work to be done to restore trust between educators and High Tech High’s leadership.
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