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Sat May 9, 2015, 12:48 PM

Why My Charter School Needs a Union

http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17921/urban_prep_north_lawndale_college_prep_union



Why does my charter school need a union? In a word: accountability. After having worked at Chicagoís Urban Prep Charter Academy for six years, I have serious concerns about how resources are allocated by my own charter network. And my research into whether charter schools are truly public or private entities under the law has convinced me that these problems arenít confined to schools like Urban Prep or Chicagoís UNO network. There are serious questions that need to be asked about the lack of accountability for charter school operators. Having a union at charters schools will force operators to think twice before doing anything that isnít in the best interest of students.

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Although the FOIAs havenít uncovered anything illegal, Urban Prepís allocation of resources raises questions about whether this money is actually going to improve the education of students. Our decision to form a union at Urban Prep isnít primarily about compensation. It is about asking Urban Prep why they choose to rent out a space downtown for their administrative offices, when they could use a fraction of their rent to provide better technology to teachers (many teachers have had to purchase their own technology resources or ask for donations from Urban Prep). It is about asking Urban Prep why their administrators deserve comparable wages to their CPS counterparts, but teachers apparently donít. But the questions weíre asking go beyond Urban Prepís specific practices. This is about the ethics and fiscal responsibility of Urban Prep and all charter schools.

Not an isolated problem

I recently had the opportunity to share a paper that I wrote at the AERA 2015 meeting in Chicago. The paper centered on a case involving Chicagoís largest charter network: UNO Charter Schools. A gym teacher at one of the UNO schools was dismissed and the teacher filed a suit claiming that he had been discharged unfairly for whistle blowing about an incident of student-to-student sexual harassment. Although the case never went to trial, it picqued my interest in trying to understand whether charter schools are truly public or private entities under the law. Both my research into UNOís questionable business practices and my own experiences as a charter school educator have made me acutely aware of what is at stake if some sort of check is not placed on charter school operators.

Waiting for answers

Iím convinced that unions are an important mechanism for holding charter schools accountable. In recent years, a coalition of forces has successfully framed unions as being resistant to reform and being a detriment to changes that are needed in schools. The recent films, Waiting for Superman andThe Lottery are prime examples of this effort to demonize unions. (As a side note, our founder required all of our employees to sit through both of these movies as professional development). And while unionization wonít address all of the accountability issues in charter schools, unions can help to shine a light into the dark unknown crevices of charter school management.

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