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Machiavelli on Broadway:
NYC Charter School Center’s Quest To Turn Teacher Against Teacher

Wall Street tycoons and hedge fund operators have brought America the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, leading to yawning chasms in tax revenues and serious cuts to education funding. From the moment the crisis took hold, the UFT has been waging an all-out campaign to minimize the cuts to all public schools, district and charter. Joining us in that battle have been many community, education advocacy and parent allies. But entirely missing in action have been the organizations of charter school management which are the beneficiaries of Wall Street largesse.

Both the NYC Charter School Center and New York Charter School Association have instead attempted to use the economic crisis and cuts in education funding to pit charter school against district school, charter teacher against district teacher, charter parent against district parent and charter student against district student. They see in it not a potential educational disaster for schools and students, but a political opportunity to be used in their crusade to keep charter school teachers divided from other public school teachers, the better to prevent them from organizing into a union.

For over a year now, ever since he came to the Charter School Center from his position as honcho of Wal-Mart’s charter work, CEO James Merriman has been trying to organize a protest by charter school teachers outside of the UFT offices. To accomplish that goal, he cynically blames the union for the funding cuts to schools that he and the rest of charter school management have done nothing to fight. During last year’s budget battles, he engaged in a heavy-handed effort at organizing which came up empty. Frustrated at his inability to pull off a real protest by charter teachers, Merriman worked with the co-principal of Renaissance Charter School to produce a rump effort on March 26.

While an appeal to participate in the March 26 action was sent to all conversion charter schools, Renaissance was the only school present. Just as importantly, there were only a handful of Renaissance teachers participating: the overwhelming majority of Renaissance teachers recognized the effort as a ‘divide and conquer’ ploy by the Charter School Center, and were not prepared to be its pawns. A number of Renaissance teachers emailed the UFT explicitly dissociating themselves from the action. But none of that stopped Merriman from announcing it on his blog, as if it were a genuine protest and as if the Charter School Center was a disinterested observer.

Taking a page out of special effects director James Cameron’s movie script, Merriman’s blog proves that you don’t need to stay true to reality to frame a point. In Avatar, Cameron takes us to a far off world filled with blue people in order to outline our own struggle with conservation. Similarly, Merriman uses his astro-turf “rally” to suggest that grass roots charter school teachers are at odds with their union.

But reality has a way of intruding into such contrived propaganda. Merriman’s blog publishes a photograph, reproduced here, which purports to show “UFT members” protesting on March 26. One person in the photograph is even holding a sign that claims she pays dues to the UFT. In reality, the person holding that sign is not a UFT member but a member of Renaissance Charter School management. The next person in line in the photo is a school aide. There is not a single UFT member from Renaissance charter school in the photograph – not surprising, given how few were present. The NYC Charter Center worked hard to make this representation seem realistic, but you just can’t make blue avatars into red people.

Within a few days, Merriman’s blog “let the avatar out of the bag” with a post proclaiming his true intentions: an effort to drive the UFT out of charter schools. It is a violation of state public employee relations law for management – both at the Charter School Center and in a particular charter school – to be organizing efforts at union de-certification, but that does not appear to trouble the man from Wal-Mart.

What should not be lost in these Machiavellian power plays is the refusal of Merriman and others in charter school management to join the UFT in taking practical steps that would actually help charter schools in these financially difficult times. Part of the package of reforms to charter school legislation proposed by the UFT in January were proposals to reduce the lag in the charter school funding formula, to fund charter schools for the actual numbers of high needs students they serve and for moving TRS pensions off of charter school books. But Merriman and others in charter school management showed no interest in taking up these measures; instead, they focused entirely on battling the measures to prohibit for profit management of charter schools and on ensuring that charter schools educate their share of high needs students.

That’s the agenda of Merriman and the New York City Charter School Center: for profits, not for schools.

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4 Comments:

  • 1 Bob Calder
    · Apr 6, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Given that unions evidently have little or no effect of student learning, as an accountable executive, he should return that portion of his salary wasted on non-productive activity involving his personal belief system.

  • 2 Richard Skibins
    · Apr 6, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Actually, unions DO have a great effect on student learning. Students in states where teachers are fully unionized score much higher on the SAT than students in states with no teachers’ unions.

  • 3 mrvirgo673
    · Apr 7, 2010 at 11:26 am

    A few years ago, I made a decision to enter the then small “experimental” Charter School world. This decision was not done haphazardly. I put in a lot of time and energy in finding out what Charters were all about. I wanted out of a school system which “sardinized” students, did not respect teachers as professionals, did not allow teachers to be part of any decision making process, and did not listen nor respect parents ideas. I wanted to be part of an educational movement that offered innovative and specialized attention to students. I was looking forward to the idea of entering an educational system that was unique in many ways including smaller class size and teachers’ voice in decision-making. The Charter world sold me on the promise that they will be able to offer a better education to all students with innovative techniques and curriculum created by teachers, at a lower cost than the traditional public school system and that teacher voice was going to be a must. The Charter School’s mantra was “We can do better with less.” It was made clear that a Charter School could start by being housed in “underutilized” space of public schools and find its own space as it grows. The concept of “at a lower cost” was a concern of mine; because first thing I thought was “sardinizing students” into classrooms and less compensation for teachers. I was assured that Charter Schools are able to raise extra money through grant writing, fund raising and donations. I was also assured that teacher voice and input in decision making was essential and could be through union and collective bargaining not only on the school level but at the Board Level; As well as parent participation in daily activities and also at the Board Level. Over the past decade I have witnessed the small “experimental” Charter School world grow into something very different than I had expected. There is not much that is unique or innovative in how Charter Schools work. Smaller classes are non-existent. My fear of “sardinized” classrooms has become a reality let alone that Charters are attempting to oust public school students and teachers so they can have the building for themselves. All we hear from Charter School principals and Boards is “we do not get enough money and it is unfair that we get fewer funds”. This is quite ludicrous, because we (charter supporters) agreed to do a better job with less! Is it that we are now realizing that we can not do a better job for less? or is it that money is being wasted on for-profit companies and insane salaries for principals of charters? Charter school teachers have been listening to our principals and Board members bring up the issue of “the funding formula” and how it is hindering charters. Teachers have tried to deal with this issue and sought remedy through the United Federation of Teachers. But recommendations to change the funding formula have been strongly apposed by NYCSA. When teachers decide to unionize and have a collective voice, they are met with disdain, threats, firings and even having to face high profile, union busting attorneys such as Jackson Lewis. Charter school teachers are working 80 hour-weeks and getting paid for 40. Let alone that now we are being divided and pitted against each other even though we are all teachers who are doing the same thing WORKING FOR OUR KIDS. Parent and Teacher voice is non-existent. Charter Schools are being used as stepping stones not only by some teachers who after a year or two, move on to different, more profitable careers, but by principals/politicians who look to advance themselves politically and economically. I am a true supporter of Charters who wants to see more Charter Schools. But there must be a lot of accountability as well as responsibility. If you want and can open a charter, make sure there is a plan that includes where the school will be housed and not in trailers or by trickery.

  • 4 Patricia Musial
    · Apr 10, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    The charter school ideology is actually the same as that of Catholic school EXCEPT that Catholic schools are NOT FOR PROFIT and truly have the students best interest at heart. A charter school will never succeed unless it is not for profit because the white shirts of wall street needed another industry to infiltrate and they found it EDUCATION!! EDUCATION SHOULD BE SACROSANCT.. NY educators are already held to the highest standards in the country and have labored long and hard with regard to their fulfillment of the NYState Ed Depart requirements. It is a shame that the NYCDOE and the Charter Organizations find that they must use data and test scores to hold teachers accountable. EVERYONE IS MISSING THE POINT. PARENTS MUST BE ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN IRREGARDLESS OF SOCIOECONOMIC CLASS. FIFTY YEARS AGO PARENTS HAD THEIR CHILDREN UNDER CONTROL AND THAT NO LONGER EXISTS. PARENTS NEED TO RECLAIM THEIR CHILDREN AND IMMIGRANTS NEED TO LEARN THE LANGUAGE AND ASSIMILATE TO OUR CULTURE. NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND AS WE HAVE SEEN THIS EVOLVE. THOSE OF US WHO ARE BORN HERE SHOULD NOT BE MADE TO FEEL AS IF WE ARE FOREIGNERS. THIS IS A GREAT NATION AND THE REASON IS LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS WHICH WE NEED TO PRESERVE. THE ONLY WAY TO DO THIS IS THROUGH VALUES MORALS AND ETHICS AND TEACHERS ARE THE VERY PEOPLE WHO REINFORCE IT ALL. CHILDREN LEARN BY EXAMPLE AND WE MUST BE ROLE MODELS FOR THEM ON A DAILY BASIS. LET US NOT FAIL OUR CHILDREN WE MUST EXPAND THEIR MINDS AND HONE THEIR SKILLS SO THAT THEY REMAIN AT THE PINNACLE OF SUCCESS. EVERY CHILD DESERVES THE CHANCE TO SUCCEED AND THAT IS THROUGH AN EDUCATION THAT IS APPROPRIATE FOR EACH CHILD NOT JUST A SELECT FEW. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER AND WILL STAY WITH YOU FOREVER. YOU CAN BE STRIPPED OF ALL YOUR WORLDLY POSSESSIONS BUT YOU CAN NEVER BE STRIPPED OF YOUR KNOWLEDGE!!!!