Khepera Charter School Ratifies Contract, Averts Strike

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April 15, 2014
Protracted Khepera Contract Talks Result in Massive Teacher Turnover
PHILADELPHIA – Khepera Charter School teachers and parents are stepping up pressure on the board to reach a new contract, saying that the board’s foot-dragging is undermining learning because of the high teacher turnover caused by the protracted contract talks.
Teachers and parents held informational picketing on Thursday April 10, urging parents to reach out to Board President Richard Isaac and urge him to reach an agreement with teachers.
“Khepera parents are aware of the troubling issues that are transpiring.  Throughout this process, I have had many parents echo the same concerns that we, as teachers, have about the children,” said sixth grade Math teacher Kwame Sarfo-Mensah.  “In the three middle school grades alone, we have had 13 different teachers in that time.  This high rate of turnover has made it more difficult to establish continuity in what students are learning year to year, and, more importantly, has created additional barriers to forming and maintaining trusting relationships with students and parents.”
The 26 Khepera teachers and counselors are members of the Alliance of Charter School Employees, Local 6056, and opened negotiations for their second contract with the board nearly two years ago.
On April 2, the unionized faculty voted unanimously to give its negotiating team authorization to strike if necessary to win a contract that’s both good for students and the school and fair to teachers. The first ACSE contract expired Dec. 31, 2012, and was extended three times through August 31, 2013 as the teachers continued to try to reach an agreement with the board. 
“The teachers want nothing more than to be in their classrooms, working with their students and families,” said Reginald McDermott, a parent of two Khepera students who attend grades 5 and 7. “But the lack of an agreement is undermining the academic integrity of the schools. Teacher turnover is more than 50 percent, as teachers flee to more stable work environments.”
“With negotiations dragging on nearly two years, staff turnover has been tremendous,” said Kim Johnson, Khepera’s Science teacher and Building Representative, who is also the President of the local. “Teachers want to provide the best education possible, but without a contract, many of our teachers are looking for jobs elsewhere so they can support their own families, pay their student loans and apply for mortgages. It’s taking its toll on the close relationships that have been established between the teachers, the children and the parents.”  Johnson’s own children attended and graduated from Khepera, and are now college-aged.  
“With high teacher turnover comes high student turnover, and if we continue on this path, we won’t have a school in a few years,” said Kiana Montgomery, parent of a fourth grade Khepera student, and herself a teacher in another district.  “We are all sticking together here.”  
Khepera is one of five Philadelphia charter schools where employees have union representation through the Alliance of Charter School Employees.  Other member schools include Wakisha Charter, a middle school, whose members and Board reached a new three-year contract agreement in December, 2013 and Delaware Valley Charter High School, whose membership also reached a second three-year agreement with school leadership earlier this month.  Both of these agreements were unanimously ratified by the ACSE membership.  Other ACSE chapters include West Oak Lane and New Media Technology Charter Schools.  
Founded in 2004, Khepera serves 450 students in grades K-8 on two campuses in Mount Airy.  The school is currently undergoing the charter renewal process conducted by the School District of Philadelphia, as is mandated to do under state law.