Thursday, May 4, 2017

St. Hope schools founded by former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson will unionize, labor group says | The Sacramento Bee

St. Hope schools founded by former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson will unionize, labor group says | The Sacramento Bee:

Kevin Johnson’s charter schools have long angered unions. Now teachers there may join one.

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A majority of teachers at the St. Hope Public Schools charter system have signed a petition to become members of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, the labor union announced Wednesday.
If completed in the coming months, as SCTA officials expect, the marriage of the activist-style teachers union and the charter school system founded by former Mayor Kevin Johnson would be an odd pairing within the Sacramento City Unified School District.
No other independent charter schools in the district have unionized, and education labor leaders have long been critical of Johnson and his wife, Michelle Rhee. The Sacramento teachers union has remained an ardent opponent of St. Hope since it won school board approval to convert Sacramento High School to a charter campus in 2003.
Rhee is a prominent advocate for charter schools, chairs the board for St. Hope and is the former chancellor for Washington, D.C., public schools, where she drew controversy for bucking the teachers union.
“It used to be insurance companies and the trial lawyers doing the big fight,” said Sacramento political consultant Andrew Acosta. “Now you have this becoming much more of teachers unions vs. charter school playing itself out.”
The Sacramento teachers union has eyed St. Hope schools for years. John Borsos, executive director for the labor group, said there have been periods since the school system was created more than a decade ago that educators expressed an interest in trying to organize.
“From the moment St. Hope was created, there was always a belief that if educators decided it was right for them, then being unionized made sense,” Borsos said.
St. Hope has more than 1,600 students and 100 teachers in four schools: Sacramento Charter High, P.S. 7 Middle School, P.S. 7 Elementary and Oak Park Prep. Its largest school – the high school – has more than 900 students and occupies the former campus of Sacramento High School. The city’s oldest high school, Sacramento High faced possible state takeover in 2003. It closed in June and reopened the next fall as a charter. Within a few years, its graduation rates improved and academic performance improved and its dropout rates fell. By 2009, more than 70 percent of its graduating class was accepted to a four-year college.
Stephanie Farland, a consultant on charter school oversight in California, said she sees the benefits that students can receive when there is no labor agreement. But she also sees the price that young or new teachers pay because of high involvement, home visits and long hours.
“Charter schools often are successful because they have highly engaged and involved staff,” said Farland, executive director of Sacramento-based Collaborative Solutions for Charter Authorizers, which works with school districts and county education offices in California.
One of the reasons, she said, is that “most charters don’t have union rules they have to follow. They really work the teachers pretty hard.”
That translates into historically high turnover rates and burnout, she said. “While they are there, they are doing a great job,” Farland said. “But once they burn out, there are really no protections for them.”
She said she understands the need for teachers to be paid well and fairly. “But for the charters that are successful and have high expectations for teacher involvement, I think unionization is going to hurt that.”
Statewide, about 30 percent of charter schools had some form of collective bargaining agreement or representation in 2015, according to the California Charter Schools Association.
“I think it has a lot to do with the national political context,” Borsos said. “I think there’s a lot of uncertainty and concern. And I think that one thing the labor movement has represented is stability, job security and professional advocacy. And the national turmoil has percolated down into the communities. I think people are feeling the turbulence.”

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Borsos said the labor group expects that “when people see the success that St. Hope educators have,” teachers at other charters will want to join in.
The SCTA cited a lack of transparency and high turnover as key issues with the St. Hope system.
Kingsley Melton, a law and public service teacher at Sacramento High, was among those who talked to co-workers about signing the SCTA petition.
“It was not easy,” Melton said of those conversations. “But it was easy to talk about theSt. Hope schools founded by former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson will unionize, labor group says | The Sacramento Bee: 
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