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Charter School Unionization in Massachusetts
posted by: Cindy Omlin | June 07, 2011, 05:20 PM   

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been in the news recently over the attempted unionization of a small charter school on Cape Cod. Lighthouse Charter School was once the pride of the area; unfortunately due to some growing pains and administrator turnover the school was at a crossroads that made it vulnerable to a "card-check" unionizing effort. Some teachers are questioning the legality of unionization without an election. Regardless of the outcome at Lighthouse, any attempt to unionize a successful charter school initiates a necessary conversation about what unionization could mean to the overall charter environment in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

Unionization of charter schools is a very real threat to the innovative, flexible environment charter schools are designed to cultivate. 604 charter schools (12 percent) operate with unions, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Even that low number is surprising, considering charter schools were intended to operate without bureaucratic red tape and onerous negotiated agreements, in an environment where administration has the ability to implement changes based upon the best interests of the students, not the needs of adults.

Charter schools often succeed (in fact, if they don't succeed, they close their doors) and enjoy the support of President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. As a result, the unions are tired of being left out of the process and have started to organize schools. In some cities the union publicly admits that the effort to unionize is actually an effort to destroy. Sadly, teachers who are promised better pay and improved working conditions can only be guaranteed lengthy contracts, contributions to partisan politics, and an adversarial relationship between faculty and staff. In fact, there seems to be no faster way of stifling the progressive and collaborative environments of charter schools than to unionize them.

It is understandable for educators to worry about their continued employment under new leadership or to wonder how the system works without the union in the middle of the process, but teachers deserve to know their options before they commit to union. Another charter school in Massachusetts is learning their lesson after being unionized three years ago by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Teachers at Brighton's Conservatory Lab Charter School are growing frustrated over the AFT's frequent attacks on the academic accomplishments of charter schools and last year's unsuccessful campaign by the union to block an aggressive expansion of charter schools. In fact, many of the teachers who supported the union have since left the school and the union reports low attendance at meetings. "How can a group that has been so critical and not want the existence of charter schools now want to unionize teachers — what is their real motive?'' said Kevin Andrews, president of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association. "Is their motive to destroy charter schools from the inside?''

Hopefully Brighton's Conservatory Lab Charter School's experience will serve as a warning to other charter school administrators and teachers encountering a union organizing effort. Charter school teachers across the country are finding that joining a non-union association is the best way to protect their education careers without compromising the charter school culture. Teachers receive the liability insurance and legal support they need, but don't have to fund a political machine that opposes the very schools that employ them. Moreover, they belong to an association that supports the charter school movement.

What do you think about unions organizing at charter schools?
Comment below.
Originally posted by Alix at AAE.

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