Charter School Teachers Tout Freedom In The Classroom (And From Unions)

Oct 22, 2015

Academy for Science and Design teacher Patty Sockey talks with NHPR's Rick Ganley.
Credit Michael Brindley for NHPR

Having spent 12 years working in the private sector, Academy for Science and Design math teacher Jay O'Connell says he has no problem with his salary being based on performance.

“I always think merit first,” he said. “If I do well, I know the staff will support me. I have no problem with that being based on how I perform. That’s how it is out in the real world, so no union here, it doesn’t bother me.”

As is common in public charter schools, ASD in Nashua has no teacher's union.

“The reality is here, a typical union structure with a big spreadsheet of salary steps, we could certainly put that in place here, but within a year or two, we would close because we can’t maintain the salary steps the way they’re negotiated," says Jennifer Cava, the school's director.

Teachers here on an annual one-year contract that is renewed in the spring. 

Cava says staying competitive in terms of salaries can be problematic when it comes to retaining teachers long-term. The difference between the school’s lowest-paid and highest-paid teacher is about $4,500.

“We’re able to be fairly competitive with a teacher coming in. What happens then is that there’s very little growth," she says. "So if you have a teacher who’s here for five, six, or seven years, they’re not seeing their salary go up in the same type of way you’d see with salaries in a regular salary schedule from a district school.”

The school is not able to offer any type of matching retirement plan, she says.

“What happens over time with these teachers who have grown and thrived here is they start looking at what the long-term plan is,” It’s something that we definitely struggle with.”

Regardless, teachers at ASD say they're happy to trade off a little less money for greater flexibility in the classroom.

Patty Sockey teaches English at the Academy for Science and Design. She says she took a pay cut to leave her position at Pinkerton Academy in Derry.

“It was very appealing to me because I know I could come in and work with the kids. I was trusted to be the professional that I am. There’s so much less red tape and hoops to jump through and papers to fill out proving that I do my job. I just get to do my job.”

Jenny Wichland is the kindergarten teacher at Surry Village Charter School. 

Surry Village Charter School kindergarten teacher Jenny Wichland talks with NHPR's Rick Ganley.
Credit Michael Brindley for NHPR

She enjoys the ability to be creative when it comes to designing curriculum.

“You still have to go by the Common Core and the science and social studies standards, but there’s the ability to design it in an integrated way; to do math and literacy and science all combined together,” she said.

Charter schools get about $5,500 per pupil, but the new state budget boots that by roughly $1,000, money Director Jennifer Cava says she's planning to put toward salaries and benefits for teachers.  

Teachers unions aren't known for being particularly supportive of charter schools.

In a July op-ed, NEA-New Hampshire President Scott McGilvray lashed out at the movement.

"Unlike public schools, with elected schools board who are held accountable for how they spend tax dollars, charter schools are run by an unelected Board of Directors who get to use our tax dollars however they choose with no recourse from taxpayers,” McGilvray wrote. “Only half of charter school teachers have to be certified.  The remaining faculty does not.  Unlike public schools, who educate every child who comes through the door, charter schools get to pick and choose their students.”