Thursday, June 28, 2007

UFT & Green Dot Start Charter

The New York Times
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June 28, 2007

Union to Help Charter Firm Start School in the Bronx

Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school operator from Los Angeles, is seeking to expand into New York with the cooperation of the teachers’ union.

Under the proposal, Green Dot, which is heavily financed by the billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, would open a high school in the South Bronx. The school, which must be approved by the state, would become one of only a handful of charter schools in the city to use a union contract.

The cooperation of the union, the United Federation of Teachers, is unusual. It has been lukewarm toward charter schools, many of which actively oppose unions. The schools are publicly financed but are largely free from the control of local school districts.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers’ union, said yesterday that she approached Steve Barr, the founder of Green Dot, to open the school because he favors working with unions.

“We have never been against increasing charters, but we were against the anti-union animus in some charter schools,” Ms. Weingarten said. The union already runs two charter schools in Brooklyn.

The plan calls for all teachers to be part of the union, but their contract would be simpler than the citywide contract. The union and Green Dot have already reached agreement on the general terms and structure of their contract.

Rather than dictating the number of hours and minutes teachers must spend at the schools, it would just call for a “professional workday,” they said. The contract could also eliminate tenure, but would set guidelines for when a teacher can be dismissed. Many charter schools can dismiss teachers at will.

Mr. Barr, who has sparred in recent months with school officials in Los Angeles over his aggressive plans for expansion of schools, said that he had turned down offers before to expand beyond California and that he had responded only because it was the union that had approached him.

“If it were the mayor or the chancellor, I probably would have said no,” he said in an interview yesterday. “But to say that we are doing reform with the largest union is something very different. We can prove the unions and reformers work together.”

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