Wednesday, December 23, 2009

UFT Caused $500,000 Budget Cut from Merrick Academy Charter School

UFT Emperor Hath No Clothes

Some things you just can't have both ways.

The teacher union protest this week (here) at the Merrick Academy-Queens Public Charter School in Jamaica, led by United Federation of Teacher's president, Michael Mulgrew, is a farce thanks to the union leadership's two-faced behavior in the past year toward charter school funding. Thanks to the union's own political lobbying, this school lost about $496,000 - depending on the vicissitudes of enrollment.

That amounts to about $11,000 per unionized staff, which would have covered multi-year individual pay raises.

Such pay hikes are not happening now because the Merrick Academy, and every other charter school, lost funding because the state legislature heeded the call last spring of the New York State United Teachers and its largest chapter, the UFT, to "adjust downward" (i.e., "cut") the charter funding formula for this 2009-10 school year. So, it's a little much for union leadership to now feign outrage at a charter school for refusing to give what the union already took from its budget.

NYSUT's Executive Vice President, Alan Lubin, urged the legislature to cut charter school funding on the basis that state "Foundation Aid" to school districts was expected to be frozen. Mr. Lubin, with a UFT representative sitting adjacent to him, told the legislature:

"Charter school tuition payments should be adjusted downward by the same percentage that a public school district's state aid is reduced should a reduction become enacted" (emphasis mine).

NYSUT and the UFT got its way, as Gov. Paterson and the legislature bought their line of erroneously conflating state aid to school districts with the charter funding formula - a completely apples-to-oranges mistake. State Foundation Aid, which was frozen at prior-year levels, is a subset category of school district aid that amounts to only about one-third of New York City's revenue for public schools. The City, if it chose, could make up the funding loss from such a freeze by cutting other expense areas, raising any number of local taxes, or substituting federal Stimulus funding.

Charter Funding Formula Inadequate
No such luck for charter schools. By contrast, the charter funding formula is life-or-death for these schools as it comprises 90-plus percent of its revenue. Charters can't raise taxes or cut some other non-education programs or departments.

Compounding this problem is that charter schools do not receive state facilities money and instead must use the charter funding formula, which is derived from district per pupil operating expenses, to pay lease and building costs. Tying up operating funds to pay for a building means less for employee salaries and program expenses for students. In the case of Merrick, this school secured its own building and is not sharing free City district space.

No CFE for Charter Schools
The charter funding formula this year also would have captured the recent state aid increases and school district spending growth resulting from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity litigation. These increases in education revenue and spending already began with school districts and were due subsequently to the charter school students (and faculty) this year by flowing through the charter formula as a result of its two-year lag. Turns out, in effect, NYSUT and the UFT were all for CFE funding - except for charter schools, which is unfair to those students and faculty that have the same rightful claim.

The Merrick Academy board is right to bring up the UFT-demanded charter funding freeze. And, the school cannot make up for that funding loss, much less increase teacher pay with money it does not have thanks to the teacher union's contrarian political activity in the state Capitol.

Union Heads: Look in Thy Mirror!
Michael Mulgrew's union soapbox activity in protesting Merrick Academy this week shows he lives in complete denial of his organization's own culpability for this funding fiasco. His member teachers paying him dues are now reaping the bitter fruits. Further, Mulgrew's attempts to change the subject and scapegoat the hated management company is a fatuous excuse for the inability to deliver higher paychecks he promised for these teachers. This should fool no one. The management company, Victory Schools, Inc., has a legitimate contract that was part of the school's charter approval by the state and for which it delivers a range of services, including the massive start-up and facility expenses it undertook when the school opened.

As The Chalkboard is written (e.g., here), charter school teachers need to be fully informed of their union's political activity and get past its campaign literature and media soundbites. The union is representing both district and charter teachers whose schools are in competition to some degree, including for diminishing public funds. This should be clearly understood by non-union and union faculty in charter schools--who are vastly outnumbered by their district colleagues--especially given that we are on the eve of a new round of state budget-making in Albany.

Charter teachers deserve better than to be put in this position of being told one thing locally by their union, while its higher-ups conduct unfriendly charter business in Albany. Protesting the charter school leadership for trying to remain fiscally sound is misdirected; look instead to the man on that proverbial soapbox with the bullhorn.

Peter Murphy
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.