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KIPP asks for a secret-ballot election of teachers in Brooklyn

In their first-ever appearance together since they became locked in an organizing dispute in January, the KIPP charter school network and the city teachers union remained at odds earlier this week over a petition by Brooklyn KIPP teachers to join the union.

In a conference before the state labor board, the union implored a judge to make the teachers’ petition official. KIPP officials asked instead that the state conduct a secret-ballot election of teachers before deciding whether to grant them a union. A wide majority of teachers at KIPP AMP have already turned in cards confirming that they want to unionize. New York state law only requires that card-check majority in order for public employees to form a union.

“We think an election is a fair way to accurately decide, in a democratic process. We believe in an election,” David Levin, the superintendent of KIPP New York told me in an interview yesterday.

Leo Casey, a vice president of the union, called the move a stalling tactic. “The bottom line is that they’re trying to drag it out, and they still refuse to accept that their teachers want to have a union at this point,” Casey told me in an interview yesterday. “But the law is the law.”

The Public Employee Relations Board is expected to make a decision in the next 30 days. The skirmish is part of a larger battle between charter school supporters who believe the schools’ selling point is the fact that their teachers are not represented by unions — and teachers unions, which across the country are fighting to recruit charter school teachers into their fold.

The New York City union has taken on the feeling of a political fight. Last Friday, teachers at two other New York City KIPP schools filed petitions to sever their relationship with the union, saying they were reacting to increasing overtures by the union to play an (unwanted) role at their schools. Union officials struck back by saying that President Randi Weingarten has tried to work cooperatively with KIPP officials, reaching out to Levin personally several times – with no effect.

Here’s what Casey wrote on his Edwize blog earlier this week:

Each time, we repeated our willingness to sit down and talk, and our desire to work collaboratively with them to sustain the very best education at the KIPP schools where we now represented the teachers. We received not a single positive reply.

Levin disputed the characterization of his attitude. “I have reached out as well and not had calls returned,” he said. “Obviously, I am happy to talk any time, anywhere with anybody. I don’t think anything is deliberate at all. I just think it’s been a busy time for everybody.”

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