Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Charter Unionized Teachers Protest Their Union

Teachers from the Charter School for Applied Technologies, located in Tonawanda right outside of Buffalo, yesterday held a good 'ol fashion protest in front of the offices of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the very member union that represents them.

"We are looking for NYSUT to take a more proactive approach to representing us," the charter school's teacher union treasurer, Christine Twaronek, told the Buffalo News. The story can be found here (LINK).

What Ms. Twaronek and her charter faculty are upset with is NYSUT selling out their interests in the recently adopted 2009-10 state budget, where the state legislature imposed a freeze on next year's charter school funding to current-year levels.

As the state's largest charter school, Applied Technologies serves just fewer than 1,600 students and was denied nearly $2.4 million thanks to NYSUT's persuading the legislature to impose the funding freeze, with a statewide impact of $50 million. Subsequently, at the urging of the New York Charter Schools Association, Governor Paterson and Senate Majority Malcolm Smith committed to restoring 60 percent of this amount (or $30 million) using other funding sources.

NYSUT continues its feeble excuse of seeking "fairness" to the state's budgeting process, which is euphemistic, bland nonsense for gutting charter funding this year, and harming its own union members which now comprise 20 percent of the state's charter schools currently in operation.

NYSUT's western New York regional director, Michael Preskop, told the paper his organization "has never been comfortable with the funding mechanism" for charter schools since it "pits charter schools against other public schools."

Yeah, Mr. Preskop, and your organization sides with those "other public schools" EVERY time against charter schools and the very teachers it purports to represent. It always has. No matter the "funding mechanism," district and charter schools will always be at some level of competition, whether the funding flows through the district, as it currently does, or if it all came directly from the state.

Interestingly, one report I received from the protest was that Mr. Preskop offered to sit and talk with the protesting teachers. But, after making his remarks to reporters, he had a change of heart and went back inside to his office, did not meet with anyone, then eventually departed the premises.

According to one observer on the scene: "The teachers did get a kick out of the fact that when the actual person who represented them at negotiations left for the day, he sort of slouched down in the driver’s seat and did not even make eye contact with anyone."

NYSUT's Conflict of Interest
This year's state budget fight amply demonstrated what has been the case since charter schools were first authorized, that is, NYSUT will side with the district schools over charters because that constitutes the vast majority of its dues paying membership, which sadly makes unionized charter teachers 2nd-class members of its organization.

Fortunately, the Charter Schools Act reaffirms the right of teachers to unionize in a challenging organization to NYSUT, which makes more obvious sense in light of the union's charter school sell-out. Most charter teachers are not unionized, and faculty from two KIPP charter schools in New York City are seeking to drop union membership, as we reported previously.

Charter schools must do right by their teachers, and teachers must bring out the best from their students. When it comes to charter schools, at least in the political arena, so should NYSUT; except it can't. It's conflicted.

This is being understood by more teachers, on opposite ends of the state.

Peter Murphy
for The Chalkboard

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