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LA Teachers Union Encouraged to Sue Over Charters
posted by: Colin | October 26, 2009, 05:00 AM   

The Los Angeles teachers union has been advised by their lawyers to sue the Los Angeles Unified School District to prevent schools from being turned over to charter school operators. United Teachers Los Angeles, a 48,000-member joint affiliate of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, received the recommendation in a memo last month, which was subsequently leaked to the Los Angeles Times. The potential lawsuit would challenge a Los Angeles board of education plan to allow takeover of up to 200 failing schools and 50 newly built schools. Under the board proposal, charter school operators, as well as community organizations, parent groups, teachers, and even the union, are able to submit proposals to run the new schools. The resolution passed 6-1.

In a district where only 30% of third graders read at grade level and fewer than 35 out of 100 high school students graduate, you would think a radical approach would be welcomed to save students from what board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, the author of the resolution, called “a 911 emergency.” In fact, the union is free to submit proposals on how to save the schools (nevermind that they currently play a significant role in how the failing schools are currently operating), but the threat that a non-union charter school may be able to rescue these failing schools is too much. Ms. Aguilar stated plainly, “I think our teachers’ union has been the biggest barrier and impediment to reform.”

The president of the union, A.J. Duffy, responded to the proposal quite revealingly, “We are not opposed to outside interests coming in, but we want those outside interests to adhere to the bargaining agreement that already exists.” In other words, as long as nothing changes, we are willing to accept change.

The focal point of the lawsuit appears to be the newly-built schools that haven’t had a chance to fail before being turned over to charter school managers. Ben Austin, president of Parents Revolution, a pro-charter parent group, noted that even the new schools “literally begin to fail under federal law the day after the ribbon-cutting ceremony.” The union wants them to have the chance to fail before being turned around by an outside interest.

While the union contract that specifically protects teacher jobs when overcrowding moves students to new schools seems to be tough to get around, the school district is right to be trying this radical approach. Even if they fail in court, they’re drawing attention to the “biggest barrier” to reforming a struggling district. Personally, I’d be interested in seeing the teachers’ union proposal for running the new schools—safe bet it would require more money and more teachers (read: more dues-paying union members), but no additional class time, no incentives for teachers to excel, and no creative reforms common in charter schools. If we weren’t talking about the lives and futures of real children, I would support the district turning over ten of the schools to the union, ten to charter organizations, ten to parent organizations, ten to non-union teachers, and, for fun, ten to be student run, and see which schools turn around—under-budget—the fastest.

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