PACOIMA — Teachers at the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center and two other independent charter schools who had faced an imminent deadline for deciding whether to quit have won a reprieve on two fronts.
The Los Angeles teachers' union has endorsed a one-year extension and five-year leave of absence that enables the teachers to continue to accrue Los Angeles Unified School District seniority and maintain retirement benefits while working at the experimental schools.
The extension would also apply to the Fenton Avenue Charter School in Lake View Terrace and the Accelerated School in South Los Angeles. The schools are preparing for five-year reviews in June before the Los Angeles Board of Education to determine whether they will remain open.
The district and the union will meet in coming weeks to put in writing the proposed one-year extension. Separately, the school district has given Vaughn teachers an extra six weeks, or until May 30, to decide whether to leave the nationally acclaimed school they helped found five years ago.
LAUSD teachers at the independent charter schools--which operate outside most state rules and district guidelines--were granted five-year leaves of absence to work at the campuses. They must now return to district service or resign to continue working for the charter schools--in the process giving up their district seniority and retirement health benefits.
United Teachers-Los Angeles and the school district fashioned the five-year limit to provide parity with LAUSD teachers at conventional schools.
Teachers at the charter schools said the UTLA one-year extension offer appeared to come with a hitch: To be eligible for the additional year, charter schools must agree to use the union as their "exclusive bargaining agent."
But each of the charter schools wants employees to be allowed to use UTLA or seek their own union representation, leading some teachers and administrators to offer a cool reception to the UTLA overture.
"From my point of view, I don't see any benefit so far," Vaughn kindergarten teacher Roxanne Correa said. "It comes with a wrapping."
UTLA officials said their motives are clear: they want to maintain a foothold among charter schools.
"UTLA has never been opposed to innovation and change," union President Day Higuchi said. "We want the charter schools to be staffed by teachers who want the union to represent them."
UTLA's desire is a tough sell among Vaughn's staff, where about two-thirds of the teachers have been hired from outside the L.A. district. Many of the teachers question the value of paying for a union that represents nearly 40,000 teachers, with only a fraction of them at charter schools.
"There is a lot of feeling that the union doesn't represent the charter," one teacher said.
UTLA officials have asked Vaughn teachers to hold off on their charter renewal in June to spend the next year hashing out a range of issues, including how much the school should pay into a pool for retiree health benefits. Several Vaughn teachers said they do not want to delay the charter renewal.
"It's ridiculous," Correa said. "All of those things we have worked for, we are putting off? They are saying, 'Don't continue along this path of reform.' "