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One KIPP Academy employee did ask for the union's help

One confusing point in the ongoing saga between the KIPP charter schools and the city teachers union is exactly how many KIPP teachers actually want to belong to the union.

While 16 teachers at the KIPP AMP school in Brooklyn submitted cards to the state labor board saying they want to join the United Federation of Teachers, at least one of those teachers changed her mind after submitting the card, and teachers at two other KIPP schools the union has tried to represent are resisting the push. Yoav Gonen described the union’s effort at those schools as “meddling” in today‘s New York Post.

But add at least one more person to the ranks of KIPP teachers who are actively seeking union help: A staff member on the payroll of KIPP Academy, one of the original KIPP schools, who turned to the union after the charter school network allegedly decided to move him to a new school and dock his pay.

The teacher detailed his complaint in a January letter asking KIPP Academy’s principal, Blanca Ruiz, for a meeting where he would be represented by a UFT official. The union sent me the letter but whited out the name of the teacher who filed the grievance, and the union did not make him available for an interview.

A union official told me that the teacher approached the union for help after KIPP changed its plan for him. The teacher had been hired as a fellow who would work at a KIPP high school that is scheduled to open next year. But at some point KIPP contacted him with a new plan. “They said to him, ‘We changed our mind, and by the way, we’re going to cut your pay,'” said the union official, who spoke on background. “So he came to us. He had no knowledge of what was happening at KIPP AMP.”

When I asked him about the incident, David Levin, the superintendent of KIPP’s New York City schools, said that he did not want to discuss an individual employee in the press.

The single teacher’s interest in getting help from the union does seem to be a very isolated example. While a fluke in the way KIPP is building its charter school means that teacher was technically on the KIPP Academy payroll, he is not a teacher at KIPP Academy. And KIPP Academy teachers have issued a press release saying unanimously that they had no interest in the union’s overtures on their behalf.

Their main concern was a letter written by a union official challenging the fact that KIPP Academy tells its teachers that they are “at-will” employees and can therefore be fired at any time. Hureau said that no KIPP Academy teachers supported the letter, either before it was drafted or after.

The union official said the letter was sent after conversations with the first disappointed teacher led them to discover KIPP teachers were told they are at-will employees. KIPP Academy teachers are technically classified as union members, though they say their interactions with the union have been limited to receiving benefits from a union fund. The teachers at KIPP Academy and another KIPP school in a similar arrangement are now moving to disassociate from the union.

You can read the two letters sent to KIPP Academy’s principal — one from the anonymous teacher and one from Solomon — below:
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