By Chunlin Leonhard
Mr. Robbie Evans, the vice president of the board that governs the Choice Foundation, a three-school charter network in New Orleans, recently urged the Lusher Charter School teachers to vote against their fellow teachers’ efforts to unionize, describing the union as “an impediment to charter schools’ progress.” (The Advocate, Monday, May 9, 2016 p. 1B) He also commented about “union-created deadlock where only ineffective and possibly abusive teachers would benefit,” pointing to the infamous “rubber rooms” associated with New York public schools –“temporary reassignment centers where union-represented teachers accused of misconduct or incompetency have been sent while they await rulings from independent arbitrators.” (Id.)
Mr. Evans’ comments are not only outdated but also completely inapplicable to the unionization efforts at Lusher.
A more salient example contradicting Mr. Evans’s comments is the Ben Franklin High School union. Ben Frank High School’s governing board voluntarily recognized its faculty’s petition in May 2014. Ben Franklin’s unionized teachers and its administration concluded their negotiations of a collective bargaining agreement in March 2015. As a member of the Lusher board presented with our teachers’ request for voluntary recognition, I studied the agreement carefully and talked to the people involved with the negotiation. I believe that the Franklin agreement struck the right balance between the teachers’ concerns and the administration’s interests to ensure quality performance. Multiple people from both sides have described the agreement as fair. It is simply wrong for Mr. Evans to assume without any attention to reality that unionization alone would result in protecting “ineffective and possibly abusive teachers.”
Recently, US News and World Report released its annual rankings of high schools. Ben Franklin is now ranked 53rd nationwide, moving up by 27 steps from its last ranking. While that is no solid proof that the unionization contributed to the improvement, this certainly shows that unionization alone does not lead to a race to the bottom. In an email to Ben Franklin alumni after the Ben Franklin Board voted to voluntarily recognize the petition, Mr. Duris Holmes, who was the president of the Ben Franklin Board at that time, pointed out that Ben Franklin had been a unionized school for most of its history. “This fact did not degrade the quality of instruction at the school then or the achievements of its students. There is no reason to believe that a unionized faculty at Franklin now will in any way hurt the school,” continued Mr. Holmes.
Now that Ben Franklin has blazed the trail, Lusher can learn from the Ben Franklin experience and make an agreement better for Lusher. If the Lusher teachers vote to recognize the union as a collective bargaining unit under the National Labor Relations Board supervised election on May 17, the Lusher administration and the Lusher teachers will sit together and negotiate an agreement, just like their peers at Ben Franklin. During this contract negotiation process, the Lusher administration does not have to agree to any terms that it feels would compromise the Lusher excellence. This is absolutely no reason to assume that the Lusher teachers who desire a voice at the bargaining table would try to do anything to compromise the Lusher excellence. The Lusher administration is certainly not obligated to agree to any terms that would create the “rubber rooms” problem, a practice that supposedly ended in 2010 according to the Advocate article.
I am confident that, working together collaboratively as a team, the Lusher administrators and the teachers can come up with an agreement that will ensure Lusher’s long term quality academic standards and bring the best out of Lusher’s already excellent faculty.
Chunlin Leonhard, an associate professor of law at Loyola University, is a member of the Lusher Charter School governing board. This letter represents her own opinions, not those of the Lusher board as a whole.