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After opting in, KIPP staff vote themselves out of teachers union

Middle school teachers at a KIPP charter school in Brooklyn asked the state this week to let them split from the city teachers union, more than a year after teachers at the same school voted to unionize. The union plans to fight the decision, saying that a group of teachers remain committed to becoming United Federation of Teachers members.

Sixteen staff members signed the petition to break from the UFT. The petition was spearheaded by a guidance counselor named Dameon Clay, his attorney said. Staff who signed the petition include classroom teachers as well as social workers, the dean of teaching and learning, an operations manager, and the office manager.

I couldn’t reach any of the teachers for comment, but Lyle Zuckerman, the attorney representing Clay, said the decision was a judgment about how the teachers could best help themselves and their students. “I think they’ve come to the conclusion that their goals and the educational mission of the school is just going to best be served by them having a direct relationship with the school’s administration,” Zuckerman said.

When they first voted to unionize, teachers at KIPP AMP said they wanted to “create a more sustainable culture so that we can better serve our students and reduce teacher turnover.” At least three teachers who had formed the initial organizing committee at the school are now signing the petition to break from the union. One is Kashi Nelson, a classroom teacher who also sends her daughter to KIPP AMP and who explained her reversal to Alexander Russo last year.

The United Federation of Teachers plans to fight the decision when the teachers have a hearing before the state’s Public Employee Relations Board, arguing that KIPP improperly intimidated teachers, vice president Leo Casey told me today.

“It really feels like class warfare in a way that is not the case in the public sector,” Casey said.

Casey said that an “active group” of teachers remains committed to working with the teachers union, but he would not describe the size of the group on the record, citing concern for them. The union had previously filed complaints with the state and put out fliers accusing KIPP of intimidating teachers.

David Levin, a KIPP co-founder and the head of its New York schools, called Casey’s claim about intimidation “simply false.” “We’ve worked closely with the teachers throughout this entire process,” he told me by phone today. “We’ve respected all of our teachers’ rights and views.”

The move is a blow to the UFT’s growing effort to unionize teachers at charter schools. Casey told me that the effort is stronger than ever, with a staff member from the national American Federation of Teachers parent union leading up efforts in New York City and organizers also on loan from the New York State United Teachers union.

Also this week, one of the charter schools where the UFT most recently recruited teachers, the High School for Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Industries (AECI), agreed to allow the teachers to unionize without a fight and without waiting for the state’s Public Employee Relations Board to force them to. Casey said this is the first time a charter school has gone along with unionization so readily.

Casey and Levin painted vastly different pictures of life at KIPP AMP in the 16 months since the initial group of teachers unionized.

Levin said that the school is recovering after a difficult year last year, when a principal left and unionization efforts forced top KIPP officials to camp out in an office inside the school. The founding principal, Ky Adderly, is now principal again, and Levin said, “Everyone’s been working really well together and doing everything they can to help the kids get ready for high school, college, and beyond.”

Casey, meanwhile, described a school in turmoil, with high teacher turnover and poor working conditions.

Andrew Rotherham, a co-founder and partner of the new consulting firm Bellwether Education Partners, first reported the dramatic news on his blog, Eduwonk, last night.

Here is the decertification petition:
Kipp AMP Decertification of UFT