They're everywhere, they're everywhere!
June 18, 2008
As if teachers unions haven't caused enough headaches for charter schools, now labor unions are getting in on the act. An op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, written by a New York charter school president and a representative of the New York Charter Schools Association, talks about the interference of labor unions in one school's quest to expand its facilities. In New York, charter schools are supposed to be exempt from a state law requiring "prevailing wage" (in other words, charter schools don't have to pay union workers at union rates). This exemption saved some organizations, like the Brighter Choice Foundation, millions of dollars when they built a new KIPP middle school ($7 mil for the charter school, while the Albany school district spent $40 mil on a new middle school).
Apparently the labor unions weren't happy, because last fall the state labor commissioner told charter schools that they too had to pay union rates. Not only was the big boss in blatant disregard of state law, but then a state judge upheld the commissioner's decision. Now, thanks to union greed, a school like Buffalo's Tapestry Charter School is looking at inflated construction costs of nearly $1.5 million to accommodate workers' wages.
I'm not sure what's more absurd: yet another union caring about its own interests before that of children, or a judge legislating from the bench. Neither entity has any business overruling state law, but both are seriously hindering the progress and autonomy of charter schools. Safeguarding all the rules and regulations governing charter schools is absolutely integral to school success. The New York state government, if it's serious about supporting charter schools, must nurture every aspect of creating and sustaining the schools. If the labor commissioner's will prevails, it's a failure of the state to protect charter schools. A labor-friendly ruling will only further the unseemly trend of catering to union will--exactly what contributed to the downfall of the public schools (and the need for charter schools) in the first place.