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Union demands charter school reinstate fired teachers

Ending a relationship via e-mail is insulting, but doing it via FedEx is probably worse.

That’s how 11 staff members at a Queens charter school discovered they’d been fired last Tuesday. Now the city’s teachers union is asking the state’s Public Employment Relations Board to give the teachers their jobs back. Teachers claim that they were fired for protesting the school policies and calling for union representation.

Speaking at a press conference at union headquarters today, UFT president Michael Mulgrew said the firings violated the state’s Taylor Law, which protects workers against discrimination for unionizing.

In 2007, an overwhelming majority of teachers at Merrick Academy voted to make the United Federation of Teachers their exclusive bargaining agent. Merrick became the first of several charter schools to unionize as part of the UFT’s campaign to bring the typically non-union schools under contract.

But since then the UFT and school’s board have yet to reach a contract agreement. Last December, UFT officials held a news conference in front of the school to protest its contract with Victory Schools.

In February, Merrick’s principal left suddenly, citing personal reasons. The school’s authorizer is SUNY’s Charter School Institute, which has been forwarding teachers’ and parents’ complaints to the school’s board. But according to the teachers who were recently fired, the school’s board is the source of the problems.

Merrick has a small staff of 36, meaning that roughly a third of the people who work there lost their jobs this week.

Eully Risi, 28, who was one of eight teachers and three teaching assistants to receive a termination letter this week, said Merrick’s principal was not notified of the firings.

Gerald Karikari, chairman of Merrick’s Board of Trustees, told the Daily News that the teachers were fired due to poor performance. But Risi said she’d never had a negative evaluation and another teacher, Jonathan Carrington, said all of his students had passed the state’s math exam for several years. Carrington, the school’s chapter leader, was also let go this week.

Opened in 2000, Merrick Academy’s founding board included Congressman Gregory Meeks and State Senate President Malcolm Smith, both of whom have left the board. Smith’s former business partner, Darryl Greene, still sits on Merrick’s board. In 1999, Greene was convicted of stealing half a million dollars from city agencies and, earlier this month, he backed out of business ties he had with the company selected to run a video slot machine parlor at Aqueduct Raceway.

The Department of Education’s charter school office has little contact with Merrick leaders, as the school is authorized by SUNY and leases its own building.

Karikari could not be reached for comment today.

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