The school argued that the state's Civil Service Law governing collective bargaining, (aka, the Taylor Law), required teachers to formally recognize the union as its bargaining agent. But the Charter Schools Act says if a school's enrollment exceeds 250 students at any point in the first year (since 2007, now the first two years) you must be represented by the same union that represents the teachers in the school district where the charter is located.
Niagara Charter School inadvertently went over the enrollment limit during its first year, and the NYSUT local came knocking on the door to "represent" the teachers. The teachers, however, weren't interested and sent a letter to the union declining the offer -- "thanks, but no thanks." Well, the union wasn't offering anything. It was demanding membership as the law mandated.
Teachers at the Niagara Charter School are already paid competitively and have two seats on the school's governing board of trustees. They didn't need to be taxed by NYSUT to bargain for what they already got without them, let alone subsidize NYSUT's anti-charter school political agenda.
At the behest of NYSUT, Education Law requires that a charter school must be unionized in certain circumstances, and when Niagara crossed one of these lines, they became unionized, like it or not. Adults should be thought of as capable of making up their own minds about unionization, but NYSUT's political pull and relentless appetite for members and money got the legislature to force them onto schools this way. This law is purely about benefiting the adults working in public education, not about the children who are supposed to be served.
The Niagara Charter School's teachers can still decide to drop NYSUT by going to the Public Employee Relations Board to decertify, same as is being done by the teachers at KIPP Academy in the Bronx and KIPP Infinity in Brooklyn.
The Cruelest Irony: Paying Union to Cut Teacher Jobs
What's more is that after the legislature cut next year's charter school funding at the behest of NYSUT, it is more evident than ever before that the Charter Schools Act imposes a blatant conflict of interest upon employees of charter schools. This is because it forces them in these circumstances to be members of the same union representing like positions in the district where the charter school is located. As a result, the same union represents employees in seperate organizations directly competing for students and public dollars tied to the those students, and sides with one over the other when their interests conflict in state government policymaking.
The legislature's charter funding cut proves the obvious: NYSUT will always side politically in the state Capitol with their district teacher membership over their charter teacher membership -- every time.
That means, for example, that Niagara Charter School teachers will lose more than $400,000 next school year to the Niagara Falls district (also NYSUT members) where most of the charter students live since the district now doesn't have to pay the charter school that money -- thanks to NYSUT.
In Buffalo, the school district gets to keep more than $10 million in charter school money next year, and boasted about it in Thursday's Buffalo News. Five of those same charter schools have teachers in NYSUT's union. Your union dues at work.
What an irony: the failing Buffalo school district gets to keep charter school money thanks to NYSUT's lobbying the state legislature, which will cause NYSUT's dues-paying teachers in charter schools to face layoffs.
To charter teachers, the NYSUT message has been clear: pay no attention to those union leaders behind the curtain. Richard Iannuzzi and Randi Weingarten keep insisting their union "supports charter schools." You're suppose to just keep believing that and keep those dues coming. You know, "In Solidarity," and all that stuff.
for The Chalkboard
Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.