charter wars

City and Moskowitz still sparring over new spaces for three charter schools

Eva Moskowitz is making sure that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter school problems aren’t going away.

De Blasio said one month ago that he wanted to ease tensions between the city and the charter school sector, starting with three Success Academy charter schools whose co-location plans he scrapped earlier in the year. But Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy, brought their fights to the forefront again Wednesday by claiming that the city was dragging its feet—even as the city claimed it had offered space for two of the three schools.

“We do not understand what the delays have been,” Moskowitz said at at press conference outside a building that was supposed to house one of the disputed co-locations.

De Blasio has sought to put the charter school debates behind him after a multimillion dollar advertising blitz launched by Moskowitz’s allies led to sagging poll numbers. But the de Blasio administration pushed back on Wednesday. In a statement, Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris criticized Moskowitz’s tactics as little more than a political stunt.

“This is more about politics and other agendas that it is about children,” Shorris said, alluding to a long-running political feud between de Blasio and Moskowitz that dates back to their years in the City Council.

City Hall officials insisted privately that negotiations were moving along. They said the city had found private spaces for two of the three Success schools, and that both sides were working out what renovations were needed and other terms of the lease.

One of the city’s proposals would place a Success middle school, called Harlem Central, in a school building owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese about a mile away from P.S. 149, where it originally planned to expand. De Blasio nixed that co-location because he said it would have disrupted a special needs program.

Moskowitz said she’s willing to take the space and abandon her pursuit of co-located space at P.S. 149. But she said that she and Success parents were getting impatient. Moskowitz said she wanted final details of the city’s proposals to be ironed out before the State Education Department decides if de Blasio’s co-location reversals were legal—even though that decision is unrelated to the logistical considerations being worked out now.

“We need to move faster,” Moskowitz said.

It’s not the first time that Success officials complained about the pace of negotiations.

Success threatened to take the status of its negotiations public two weeks ago, but backed off after Chalkbeat asked City Hall about the issue. Both sides quickly said that talks had resumed.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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