By Ann Welsh
The Lusher Charter School community is special. Teachers, students, parents, and the administration work every day to promote “Learning the Lusher Way” and to exemplify Lusher’s number one rule: Be Kind. The level of engagement from the entire Lusher community is unsurpassed. Only with this consistent effort from all members of the Lusher community can our students achieve the success they’ve enjoyed as a result of their experiences at Lusher. Lusher students have discovered new approaches to environmental remediation after oil spills, have introduced the President of the United States at a celebration of National Poetry Month, and have performed at Carnegie Hall. A Lusher student has even had a planet named after her by NASA!
But Lusher is more than any single outstanding student. Lusher is more than its arts program, its state championship soccer, swimming and track teams, its national championship chess team, or its academic record. Lusher is a family. A family that is the top ranked K–12 school in the state of Louisiana. A family that has always been unified in its quest to encourage the development of excellent artists, engineers, writers, scientists, and, most importantly, human beings.
But suddenly that unity is at risk. There is a wedge in the heart of our school. Union organizers have covertly invaded our campuses, creating unfamiliar and uncomfortable divisions between the teachers, the administrators, and the school’s governing board. In an extension of their efforts nationwide to undermine the charter movement, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and its local subsidiary, the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), are subverting the powerful sense of togetherness that makes Lusher so unique. The AFT has invested heavily in promoting the unionization of Lusher.
One must ask, “why”? Lusher is consistently ranked amongst the best performing schools in the state and in the nation. Lusher has a 92 percent employee retention rate (the average annual turnover is 18 percent in New Orleans’ schools). Lusher was voted a top place to work by its teachers in the 2015 NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune Workplace Survey. How is unionization going to improve Lusher? I don’t know, but it would raise an estimated $45,000 annually in dues for the union organizations.
I am disappointed that, after the Advocates for Arts-Based Education (the Governing Board of Lusher) voted to remain neutral in the unionization controversy, Chunlin Leonhard, a member of the Board, would champion unionization in this publication. I support the board’s decision to allow Lusher’s teachers to decide this issue through a secret ballot administered by the National Labor Relations Board (a federal agency). While I am highly skeptical of the intentions of the American Federation of Teachers, not just in our school, but also in the city as a whole, teachers ultimately have the right to choose whether or not they want that organization at Lusher.
I believe the teachers will reject this effort, since they already enjoy the benefits, and more, that the union alleges to offer; without the encumbrances a union demands. The next few days leading up to Tuesday’s election may be difficult ones in our buildings. Teachers, along with the parents, students, and administrators that appreciate and support them, are suffering through fractured relationships and derisive hyperbole; driven by the differing opinions surrounding the value of unionization.
I do take solace in the certainty that on Wednesday, after the vote, regardless of the outcome, that the Lusher family – teachers, administrators, parents, students, and board members – can, and will, put all of this tension behind us and come together as a pride of Lusher Lions.
Ann Welsh is the mother of two children who attend Lusher Charter School. She served as PTSA president from 2011 to 2015 and continues to be an active member of the Lusher family.