Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NYC Charter School Teachers 
Back Off From Union

FROM: David Galarza

April 27, 2010


Charter schools came under a harsh spotlight last week, with State Senator Bill Perkins holding his long-awaited hearing in an attempt to examine how the privately operated schools spend their public money. The hearings prompted several articles in the papers exploring potential conflicts of interest and other practices that have raised the ire of critics — and the issues are not limited to New York. And The New York Post took on Mr. Perkins with zeal in its editorial pages.
But as the public clashes raged, a quieter battle began coming to an end.

Just a year after voting to join the United Federation of Teachers, staff members at KIPP AMP Academy Charter School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, voted to rescind the decision to sign up with the city’s teachers’ union. The petition to break from the union was filed Wednesday afternoon with signatures from 16 staff members, including one dean of the school, an office manager and an operations manager, as well as several teachers.

To explain technical matters: The staff members are asking the Public Employment Relations Board to decertify the United Federation of Teachers as their collective bargaining representatives.

The split appears to be a loss for the union, which has put an emphasis on creating chapters at existing charter schools. Teachers at charter schools tend to work longer — 12- or even 16-hour days are not unusual — and do not have the job protections the unions provide.

The U.F.T. will fight the decision with the Public Employment Relations Board by suggesting that the teachers were intimidated by management and that a group of teachers is still committed to joining the union.

Negotiations between the union and KIPP management had been quietly plodding along for months, though there was no indication that they were anywhere near an agreement. But for now, all negotiations will halt.

Unlike many of the fights over charter schools, the battle over the union at KIPP has been relatively quiet — few advocates on either side have drawn attention to it as they did with a battle in Baltimore, where the KIPP school shortened the length of the day and eliminated Saturday classes.

Lyle Zuckerman, a lawyer for the teachers who filed the petition, said that none of the teachers were willing to speak to a reporter about the matter, in part because of the union’s suggestion that it intends to fight in court.

Mr. Zuckerman said that the guidance counselor leading the charge to decertify the union, Dameon Clay, told him that the school’s administration had changed in the last year and that the current staff has an excellent and trusting relationship with them.

“We think that we can deal with them directly without a third party, and that would be best for the staff and our students,” Mr. Clay said in a statement provided by Mr. Zuckerman. “The staff and the administration know our students well, we know the parents well, and we know firsthand what’s in their best interests.

“As for personnel matters,” the statement continued, “we’re confident that we can deal with the administration directly as advocates for ourselves. We trust that the new administrators will deal with us fairly.”

When the teachers moved to join the union last year, several of them cited high teacher turnover as a reason for their worry. This year, roughly half the teachers at the school were also at the school last year. Several teachers who joined the effort to form the union last year signed the petition to remove themselves from it last week.

Last year, one teacher changed her mind about joining the union fairly quickly, saying that she came to believe the union would do more harm than good for the teachers.

So what happens next at the school? First, the state’s labor relations board would have to approve the decertification petition. If that happens, the teachers at the school will vote on whether they want to join the union.

Unions are generally anathema to charter school operators, who say they thrive on flexibility and creating their own culture at schools. And so the unions and charter school advocates are seemingly engaged in a open warfare in New York City, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel I. Klein have embraced them with open arms.

But in Albany, negotiations continue over plans to increase the cap on charter schools — currently at 100. Mayor Bloomberg and other advocates want it raised significantly or lifted entirely, which they say would give the state a better shot at millions of dollars from the competitive federal education grant known as Race to the Top. Needless to say, there are more battles to come.

Every Tuesday, education beat reporters for The New York Times take you inside the New York City school system. 

Have a tip? Send it to IntheSchools@nytimes.com.
Senator Bill Perkins Fights The Charter School Bumrush in Harlem!

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