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Providence Financial









MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:  FEBRUARY 2006 ISSUE

DON’T LET THE TAIL WAG THE DOG
BY BRENT VAN ALFEN, PROVIDENCE FINANCIAL COMPANY, INC.



After becoming acquainted with hundreds of charter school administrators, board members, teachers, and supporters, I have decided that they are generally among the nicest people I have ever known. Their motives and purposes are good, even noble. They are engaged in a very important enterprise that will make a real difference to thousands of children. As a general rule, they are kind, good, nice people whom I am proud to call friends. And that is what worries me about them!

At some point every charter administrator must draw a line in the sand. They must be decisive and firm while not losing their other good qualities. If they’re not, they will lose some measure of control whether they recognize it or not. Slowly, the tail will start to wag the dog—as the saying goes.

The area that concerns me most is teachers’ unions. Before I go any further, I must acknowledge that there are thousands of dedicated, wonderful teachers in this country who belong to unions because they are basically forced to. It is the unions as institutions, their power, and their misguided leaders that I have concerns about. I have recently been working with seven schools in a state where the unions are strong and fighting charter schools with all of their considerable political clout. Bending the truth does not seem to be a problem for them. In many other states, the political tide has turned in favor of charter schools and in favor of maintaining their independence and autonomy. I believe that is what eventually will happen in the state I am referring to above. In many states where the unions have lost the first battle to kill or maim the charter school movement, they are falling back to their next priority which is to organize the teachers at charter schools, and bring them into the union fold. I feel strongly that if charter school teachers join the unions, the charters will lose the very strength that makes them desirable. This must be where charter school administrators and boards draw their line in the sand and fight for their very survival. Following are some examples as to why I feel so strongly about this subject.

In New Hampshire and California, district officials attempted to set a dress code for teachers. They felt that a minimum dress standard would set the teachers apart from the students and help to get them some respect. The unions rebuffed them accusing the districts in one case of trying to become an educational “Taliban.”

A teacher in New Jersey stopped at a senior prom one evening at his school to wish his students well. The teachers’ union in New Jersey requires that teachers go home at the final bell with no extra work such as grading papers, counseling students, meeting with parents, etc. As a consequence of stopping by the prom, the teacher was sent a letter of reprimand by the union stating, “you must not realize that by your action you betrayed 649 colleagues, so do not be surprised, John, that your colleagues have lost respect for you.”

In Connecticut, a union filed a grievance demanding pay for the additional two minutes a week the union claimed teachers worked that year.

I feel strongly that if charter school teachers join the unions, the charters will lose the very strength that makes them desirable.

In Pennsylvania, a union filed a grievance against a school district because coffee and doughnuts were not provided during a teacher training day.

For the examples above, I am quoting a book, The Worm in the Apple, by Peter Brimelow. Many of you may have seen the program, Stupid in America, by John Stossel on the ABC program 20/20 on January 13, 2006. If you missed it, the link is http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Stossel/story?id=1500338 . This program was a stinging indictment of teachers’ unions and the effect they are having on American Education. An example used on the program was that, because of the unions, it takes up to three years to fire a teacher in New York City—even for a criminal cause.

I’ll admit that I have not been exposed to a very broad base of teachers’ unions (or associations). The ones that I am acquainted with either first hand or through reading about them, however, have one primary purpose in common. They are interested, to one degree or another, only in doing less work for more pay. The education of children and the welfare of American schools are secondary considerations. Liberal politicians generally are on the unions’ payroll and will do all they can to assist them. The unions embody the very essence of what prompted the charter school movement in the first place. Charter Schools can’t let the unions in the door, or they will lose their very identity.

How does a charter prevent unionization? There are some airlines and auto manufacturers that wish they would have acted sooner and with more intelligence when they had a chance. I don’t claim to have many answers to these questions, but a few things are common sense.
  • Treat all employees with dignity and respect
  • Involve employees in decisions and policies that affect them
  • Be as open and collaborative as possible
  • Listen to and encourage ideas from employees
  • Be honest and fair with them
  • Express your appreciation for their work
  • Provide the best pay and benefit package possible
  • Don’t be patronizing
  • Do not allow an adversarial relationship to develop with your teachers
  • Whether you are a religious person or not, the “Golden Rule” works
The most important thing we must all remember is that it’s the kids who matter