KIPP, Union Disagree On Baltimore Teachers' Pay

The Knowledge is Power Program, known as KIPP, was founded on the idea that poor children need to spend more time in schools — more than nine hours a day, and every other Saturday — to succeed. But the teachers union in Baltimore says, if you want extra hours, you must pay for it. KIPP says it pays a stipend, but can't afford the rate the union wants.

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In his speech to school children today, President Obama will tell them to study more. Many educators say low income kids, in particular, need to spend more hours per day and more days per week in school. Still, a dispute involving teachers in Baltimore is raising questions about whether the country can afford to pay for extra time. NPR's Larry Abramson reports.

LARRY ABRAMSON: KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program, is a nationwide network of 82 charter schools with one goal: getting low income kids into college. One of the more successful KIPP schools is Ujima Village, a middle school in Baltimore's Park Heights neighborhood.

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ABRAMSON: Kids here wear neat uniforms. They promise to work hard and be nice. If they act out they must wear a bright yellow sticker. And, as in all KIPP schools, they face very long school days. Jason Botel is head of KIPP Ujima.

Mr. JASON BOTEL (Principal, Ujima Village Middle School): The KIPP model, one of the pillars is more time. And typically students go to school for between nine and nine-and-a-half hours all over the country at KIPP middle schools.

ABRAMSON: Nine-and-a-half hours, that's compared with seven hours at typical Baltimore city schools. For years, KIPP has paid teachers here a stipend, as it does everywhere else, to pay for those extra hours and for working some Saturdays. More here agree with reading teacher Jason Farber, who used to teach in a district run school.

Mr. JASON FARBER: People asked me how I liked the extra hours in my first few weeks at KIPP, and I truthfully told them I would rather spend 12 hours here than seven hours at a regular middle school in Baltimore.

ABRAMSON: So many teachers were surprised when the Baltimore teachers union came to KIPP earlier this year and said you're being underpaid.

Ms. MARIETTA ENGLISH (President, Baltimore Teachers Union): We're not opposed to KIPP. We just asked that they pay a fair wage for the work done.

ABRAMSON: Marietta English is president of the Baltimore Teachers Union. She says the stipend was only enough to pay teachers to work about 20 percent more hours than the typical seven hour day. In fact, she says KIPP teachers had to work a lot more than that. She says it's fine if teachers volunteer to work for free, as many do, but not if it's required.

Ms. ENGLISH: Teachers volunteer all the time. After school, the have clubs after school. There are other programs where teachers volunteer. That's - if it's mandated, we ask that they're paid for the work they do.

ABRAMSON: Because of the union complaint, KIPP had to raise teacher pay and cut hours. It hasn't been enough. KIPP Ujima head Jason Botel says the bump in pay has driven this school to the budgetary brink.

Mr. BOTEL: To suddenly have that kind of a drastic increase, we can't afford that over time. It's just not something we can sustain.

ABRAMSON: You seldom hear a discouraging word in the halls of KIPP schools, which thrive on intense dedication. But teachers here say the loss of instructional time, about an hour a day and no classes on weekends, undermines that commitment. Fifth grade reading teacher Tammy Coit(ph).

Ms. TAMMY COIT (Reading teacher): Part of our compensation is the students' success we see. And having less time with the students and having the KIPP model compromised, really is taking away from that compensation.

ABRAMSON: Only one KIPP teacher has come out in favor of paying the union scale, and he's not a KIPP teacher anymore. Sheldon Goines taught at KIPP Ujima until last school year. He now works at another school in the same building.

Mr. SHELDON GOINES (Teacher): Our feet are held to the fire as far as other requirements within our contract. So why would salaries be any different?

ABRAMSON: In many states charters can sign special agreements with unions. Maryland is the only one where charters have to follow the same rules as district schools. KIPP supporters are calling on the state legislature to change that law, but even if that comes to pass, this class raises questions about how school systems will pay for a longer school day if that's what actually helps low income kids do better.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.

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