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Death knell for teacher unions?

Charter school efforts say otherwise

A California judge's ruling in a lawsuit challenging teacher tenure has anti-union forces (including Obama's secretary of education) crowing, but their celebration could be short-lived. An appeal is almost certain in the Vergara case and teacher unions aren't going anywhere fast.

Just look to Detroit, where teachers at the Cesar Chavez Academy settled a contract last week, just months after they voted to join the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan. They are apparently the first Detroit charter school teachers to organize but not the only charter school teachers in Michigan who have joined a union.

It's a safe bet there will be more. Teachers and counselors at Cesar Chavez Academy, Michigan's second-largest charter, voted by a 2 to 1 ratio to join the AFT. Their efforts to organize began in 2006, when teachers complained they had no voice. Shortly after the union was recognized Leona Group agreed to settle an unfair labor practices complaint, reinstating one teacher who had been laid off and giving back wages to several other teachers.

It's likely that unions will increasingly find favor among teachers in for-profit charter schools. If employees in traditional public schools have found the need for union representation for decades, it's inevitable that charter school teachers, whose managers seek to expand profits, will find themselves and their students short-changed.

Cesar Chavez Academy is operated, coincidentally, by the Leona Group, the for-profit charter company started by former Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Bill Coats.

Leona's Timothy L. Johnson Academy was the first charter school in Fort Wayne and among the first in Indiana. Ball State University rescinded its charter after about a decade of lackluster performance, so school operators went shopping for a new sponsor and found Trine University. Leona Group continues to operate the school and simply cuts a share of the operating fee to Trine instead of Ball State. It also operates Fort Wayne's Smith Academy for Excellence.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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