Unionizing charter schools

Teachers’ unions are trying to recruit members at charter schools. Newsday reports:

ALBANY, N.Y. — Susanna Ruiz chose to teach at a charter school because of its fresh approach to education.

Now she’s part of an emerging effort nationwide by unions — charter schools’ most formidable opponents — to gain a foothold within charter schools that were created in part to reduce union influence.

On Thursday Ruiz, as a local union president, was scheduled to lead a picket of the New Covenant Charter School in a low-income neighborhood of Albany as part of an effort to expand the union’s power within the school.

“We enjoy the freedom we have here at New Covenant,” she said, citing the reduced bureaucracy that is a foundation of charter schools.

But now, she said, the five-year-old school needs some of the rules of a traditional public school: job security, competitive salaries, better working conditions. That would provide a more stable faculty and better school, she said.

It will hard for charters to retain flexibility while trying to abide by a union contract.

About Joanne


  1. Mark Campbell says:

    Reminds me of people that move to a new area to escape the crime, overcrowding, noise, etc. Soon enough they want to turn the new neighborhood into the old neighborhood.

  2. jeff wright says:

    I fear charter schools are not going to be the answer. They will be a faddish curiosity for some time to come, but it seems the existing system will eventually gobble them up. Too few of them, too hard to establish them. Vouchers may be the only real answer.

    Does anybody know of any salary, etc., comparisons? Are they really getting a raw deal?

  3. Charter Schools, at least in Pennsylvania, must abide by state law regarding benefits and retirement, plus a bunch of other educational requirements. But as far as salary goes, each teacher negotiates his or her own contract.

    When I made the switch from public school district to a charter school, I voluntarily took a $5K pay cut. At my next school I negotiated that back, and now at my current school, I again took a pay cut.

    It’s just like the “real world,” where people negotiate in the free market. If they’d offered me too little salary or bennies, I wouldn’t have taken the job, it’s that simple.

    No one holds a gun to the head of people like Ms. Ruiz, forcing them to work for one particular school. Some teachers are so quick to become entrenched where they are, then they want to change things to suit them better. If they’re so unhappy, then get a job elsewhere! It’s a free country.

  4. The parents of the children who attend this charter school have leverage too. They could organize a parents’ league and threaten to pull their kids out of New Covenant and start a new charter school should the teachers at New Covenant decide to form a union.

  5. PJ/Maryland says:

    Rather a bizarre story, thanks for linking to it. “We enjoy the freedom” from bureaucracy, but we want more rules now…

    I guess there’s some impediment to the union, or they wouldn’t need to picket. My understanding is that a plant (or school) can become unionized when a majority of the workers vote to be represented by a particular union. In this case, I wonder if the teachers had to sign a contract to not unionize or something. (Hard to imagine that happening in New York state, but maybe school problems are leading to such radical solutions.)

    Stefan, I’m not sure the parents are in a position to threaten to form another school. Most of the charters I’ve seen have to be approved by the school district, and starting one involves jumping through many hoops. (Considering they are operating entirely on taxpayer money, some of this is to be expected.)

  6. PJ, the ability of parents to start charter school varies widely from state to state. I have a friend in Massachusetts who basically got together with another friend, both of whom were fed up with their local public schools. They put together a really sound proposal, got more parents on board, and it took off from there. Now, this was in the very earliest days of charter schools, so I don’t know if Massachusetts has since created more hoops to jump through, but it worked at the time… You can check out the school at http://www.bfcss.org

  7. PJ: A contract not to unionize would be a violation of federal laws, and probably state laws as well. The only “impediment to unionization” I can imagine is that the teachers aren’t joining up.