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Setting the Record Straight: KIPP and the UFT

Richard Barth, the CEO of the national KIPP Foundation, has been circulating a media advisory which, he says, provides an “update” on “union activity involving KIPP schools in New York City.”

According to Barth’s advisory, the UFT has been seeking to “exert more control” over KIPP Academy and KIPP Infinity, two New York City KIPP charter schools. As a result, the teachers at the two schools “have signed petitions to disassociate themselves from the UFT.” Echoing the themes of a statement sent to a number of prominent educational blogs last Friday in the name of the teachers, Barth contends that the UFT was a threat to collaboration in the schools.

Readers looking for particulars in the Barth advisory and the original statement will only find passing mention of two UFT actions – a set of grievances filed at KIPP Academy in January 2009 and a proposal that the teachers at KIPP Infinity begin bargaining their own school-based agreement. These actions, we were told, could “compromise the strong environment of communication and collaboration that is integral to the success of [KIPP] schools.”

Here are the facts behind those claims.

KIPP Academy Grievances
In December 2008, a KIPP Academy teacher approached the UFT concerning a communication from KIPP which would terminate his employment at the school and place him in another KIPP NYC school at a substantially lower salary – even though there had been no record of any dissatisfaction with his teaching. The teacher shared with the UFT an offer letter from KIPP Academy which said that “[y]our employment at KIPP Academy is entirely at will. This means that KIPP Academy may terminate your employment at any time, without notice.” Such termination, the letter continued, could be “with or without cause, for any reason or for no reason.”

Now KIPP Academy was originally a school within the New York City Department of Education: it did not start as a charter school, but converted to charter status. Like many state charter laws, New York State’s charter legislation allows district schools to become charter schools, but requires that when they do so, their teachers retain their collective bargaining rights. So the ‘at will’ employment status laid out in the letter was not simply an arbitrary and unreasonable policy: it was a clear violation of the rights of KIPP Academy teachers under the collective bargaining agreement. The UFT had a clear obligation, the duty of fair representation under labor law, to seek redress for the individual teacher and to ensure that other teachers not face similar denials of their rights. We filed an individual grievance for the teacher asking for the restoration of his position at KIPP Academy and his full salary, and we filed a union-initiated grievance asking for the rescinding of all notices of ‘at will’ employment. Contrary to the claim that these grievances were filed “without solicitation or support of the staff,” they were the direct consequence of a KIPP Academy teacher reaching out to the UFT for our assistance.

That grievances such as these, asking nothing more than the rescinding of the policy that KIPP Academy teachers could be terminated at any time “with or without cause, for any reason or for no reason,” would be cited as the sole particular of the UFT’s purported threat to collaboration at KIPP Academy speaks for itself.

The UFT has represented the teachers at KIPP Academy for some fourteen years, during which time we have provided assistance to David Levin [co-founder of KIPP and its NYC Superintendent], to the school and to its teachers – all at their behest. Over the years, the salary increases, pension improvements and other benefits we have negotiated have inured to their benefit. The teacher who came to us for our help last December asked for nothing more than what others from KIPP Academy had requested before him.

KIPP Infinity and Collective Bargaining
After the KIPP Infinity Charter School started, the school founder approached the UFT and asked us if the new school could have the same relation with the UFT that KIPP Academy had, as if it too were a conversion charter school. At the request of KIPP, a formal agreement was signed, and KIPP Infinity teachers became members of the UFT. Since Infinity was a start-up charter school, the teachers were not included in the collective bargaining agreement with the DoE, as KIPP Academy teachers were. Consequently, we asked KIPP to begin the process by which the teachers at KIPP Infinity could develop their own collective bargaining agreement. Contrary to the claim that “the UFT neither consulted nor informed the staff of this request,” we hand delivered letters to the school which informed staff of the request and the process. Moreover, we have always made it clear that in start up charter schools, the school staff leads the negotiation process and shapes the agreement to meet their needs.

What Has Happened Here?
After the KIPP AMP teachers organized with the UFT, we made numerous overtures to David Levin and to KIPP – privately and in public, directly and through intermediaries. Each time, we repeated our willingness to sit down and talk, and our desire to work collaboratively with them to sustain the very best education at the KIPP schools where we now represented the teachers. We received not a single positive reply.

And so, with so little of substance in the public complaint, with a campaign of hostile and belligerent anti-unionism on the part of the KIPP Foundation since the KIPP AMP teachers organized, one is left with questions about who conceived and organized these events that KIPP CEO Barth now reports, and why they took such action.

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3 Comments:

  • 1 Marktropolis
    · Mar 25, 2009 at 7:01 am

    First, thanks for the history. Intriguing information that hopefully will add more light than fire to the conversation. What’s curious to me is why Barth would get in the middle of this. Methinks he’s showing his true colors – finding any means necessary to kill the organizing drive. He could have let this alleged division play out in the press, but instead he decide to insert himself in the disinformation campaign and thereby opening himself up to accusations of union-busting. Also, isn’t there some law against this – management getting in the middle of a dispute between union members and the representing entity?

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