The teachers union has struck another blow to Victory Schools, a for-profit management group that has bitterly clashed with the union.

All but one of the 28 teachers and other instructional staff at the Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem, which is run by Victory, signed union authorization cards and told the school’s principal and board they intend to unionize yesterday.

Victory operates nine charters in New York City; Sisulu-Walker is the third to try to unionize. The United Federation of Teachers has accused Victory of overcharging its schools for compliance and back-office work while underpaying its teachers and scrimping on class supplies and building maintenance.

Last summer, the union waged a battle with another of Victory’s unionized schools, Merrick Academy, after the school fired 11 staff members, notifying them by Fed-Ex. Three of those teachers were re-hired in September in an agreement with the union. The UFT has also never reached a contract agreement with Merrick’s board since teachers there voted to unionize in 2007.

And Victory’s other unionized school, the New York City Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries, has also been plagued with problems. Teachers’ request to unionize there is currently in contract negotiations, and the school’s founder has been charged with embezzling from a non-profit company.

The UFT currently represents teachers at 14 other city charter schools.

Sisulu-Walker opened in September 1999 as the city’s first charter school; Victory partnered with a group of Harlem activists, including State Senator Bill Perkins, who has become one of the charter school movement’s most vocal critics.

The school has struggled academically. The school received the 15th-lowest score on this year’s city progress report cards, ranking in the bottom one percent of all schools. Though the school received a “C” on the report card, it received “F’ grades in the school environment and progress categories.  And on a city survey of the school’s teachers (pdf) last year, most of the school’s teachers reported problems with order and discipline.

Teachers at Harlem charter school join the UFT

Sisulu-Walker Charter School educators seek professional voice in their school and a collaborative working environment

Teachers and staff at the Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem announced yesterday that they have decided to join the United Federation of Teachers.

Of the 28 teachers and other pedagogical staff at the school, 27 have signed union authorization cards to indicate their support for creating a UFT chapter at the school.

In letters given to the school’s principal and Board of Trustees, the teachers’ organizing committee explained that they were seeking “recognition of the teaching and professional staff as respected partners” in carrying out Sisulu Walker’s educational mission and expressed a “sincere hope” that both the principal and the trustees would “react positively to our decision, acknowledging the benefits of a strong and stable staff and committing to work with us through the remaining steps of this process.”

The UFT filed a formal petition today with Sisulu-Walker’s board of trustees, and notified the state’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) that Sisulu-Walker teachers are seeking union recognition. If Sisulu-Walker’s board does not recognize the union as the bargaining representative within 30 days, the UFT can ask PERB to certify the bargaining unit on the basis of the authorization cards.

“Teachers get into this profession because they care about giving students an excellent education. To do their jobs effectively, they need both support from their school and a professional voice,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “By taking this step, the Sisulu Walker teachers have shown that they are committed to creating the best learning environment that they possibly can for their students. We are proud to welcome them into the UFT.”

“We took this step to ensure that classroom teachers will have a real, professional voice in the decisions that affect the quality of our students’ education,” said Sisulu-Walker teacher Shaquira De La Cruz.

Sisulu-Walker teacher Doris Fleming said “I’m proud to join with my colleagues in seeking to guarantee the collaborative working conditions that we need to make Sisulu Walker an excellent learning environment for the kids.”

The UFT operates two unionized charter schools, and co-operates a third in collaboration with Green Dot, a successful and teacher-friendly charter school management company. The UFT also represents educators at eleven other charter schools in New York City.

The Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem opened in the fall of 1999, as one of the first three charter schools in New York State. It currently serves approximately 250 students in grades K through 5.

The school’s mission is to offer “rigorous and challenging academic curricula taught by a highly-prepared and committed cadre of professional educators.” The school day has extended hours, and students also attend programs on the weekends and during the summer. The school is located at 125 West 115th Street in Harlem.

Sisulu-Walker is run by Victory Schools, a for-profit educational management company based in New York City.