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Teachers at Opportunity Charter School vote to join union

Another charter school’s teachers have voted to join the city teachers union, bringing the number of charter schools represented by the union to 15. Teachers at Opportunity Charter School in Harlem, which serves a unique blend of special education and general education students, made their announcement through the United Federation of Teachers today.

The union has been actively recruiting charter school educators to join its ranks for several years, part of a strategy to embrace charter schools into the union fold.

Some schools’ management teams — including the prominent KIPP schools’ New York branch — have resisted the idea, arguing that the absence of union representation is a key tool that helps charter schools have more flexibility over hiring and firing.

Opportunity struggled to get its charter renewed after posting disappointing student test score results. City officials who authorize the school finally recommended a renewal on a shortened two-year timeline, adding a list of steps the school must take as conditions. The state approved that proposal last July. The renewal lasts through June 2012.

A year ago, investigators accused teachers at Opportunity of abusing unruly students. The school’s city authorizer officials said concerns about abuse had alleviated since the report was released.

UPDATE: In a statement, Opportunity CEO Leonard Goldberg and board chairman Philip Pallone said, “We have received notification from the UFT and are in the process of reviewing it.”

Here’s the union’s press release:

Teachers at Opportunity Charter School Vote to Join UFT

Teachers and staff at the Opportunity Charter School in West Harlem have announced they will seek representation from the United Federation of Teachers.

The UFT filed a formal petition with Opportunity Charter School’s board of trustees, and notified the state’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) that a majority of non-managerial OCS employees are seeking union recognition. If the school’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.

“The teachers at Opportunity Charter School are committed to ensuring that their students receive the best possible education,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “By forming a union, these teachers have shown that they are committed to having a collective voice in creating a great learning environment for Opportunity’s students. We are proud to welcome them into the UFT.”

Opportunity teacher Jennifer Mitchell said, “In an effort to achieve our school’s mission, I am supporting the formation of a union at OCS. We have brilliant, hard-working educators, and we need to do whatever is necessary to retain them. In order to achieve what is most important, our students’ success, we need to work not against each other, but side by side.”

Teacher Nayomi Reghay said, “I believe everyone has a voice and every voice deserves to be heard. We need a union to ensure our right to speak up for what’s best for us and best for our students.”

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

Opportunity Charter School opened in the fall of 2004. It currently serves approximately 400 students in grades 6-12. The school is located at 240 West 113th St, New York.

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