A KIPP charter school in the Bronx. (Via Flickr Creative Commons)
A KIPP charter school in the Bronx. (By ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/mlleleela/##Leila Haddouche##, via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/mlleleela/2711133829/##Flickr Creative Commons##)

The next front in the tug of war between teachers unions and charter schools is about to commence, and this development will occur at the bargaining table. The game: UFT vs. KIPP.

There’s been no official word yet, but everyone involved in the saga between the politically powerful teachers union and the prominent charter school network is expecting that 16 KIPP teachers in Brooklyn will become official members of the city teachers union today.

UPDATE: It’s now official, confirmed by both the union and KIPP. Press releases from both parties are below. And here is the PERB decision.

David Levin, KIPP’s co-founder and the superintendent of New York City KIPP schools, told me this afternoon that he hopes negotiations will begin as soon as next week.

Teachers at the charter school, KIPP AMP, petitioned to form a union in January, but their pitch has to be accepted by the Public Employee Relations Board before the union becomes official. Reports had said a final decision would come yesterday, but both the union and KIPP officials were still waiting for word this morning. Now, all signs point to PERB sending the green light to the union today.

I just got off the telephone with Levin, who said he’s heard unofficially from the state that an official statement announcing that the union has been certified is on its way. KIPP officials had been sure of the outcome already yesterday, when a press consultant sent out a release announcing KIPP’s response to the state’s certification — only to retract it an hour later, saying she’d accidentally jumped the gun. (George Arzt, the longtime city press guru, is now representing KIPP.)

In our super-short conversation, Levin told me that he expects bargaining talks to begin soon. “As soon as PERB releases their decisions, we would love to begin negotiations within a week or two at the most,” he said.

The president of the union that will represent the teachers, Randi Weingarten, addressed the KIPP effort this morning at the University Club in Manhattan, where she was sitting on a panel about teacher quality arranged by the Manhattan Institute. She said that her union’s work at KIPP exemplifies its interest in experimenting with new ways of recruiting, paying, and evaluating teachers. “We can use charter schools to not only be experiments for instructional practice, but charter schools could also be used as experimentation for labor-relations practice,” she said.

Levin’s enthusiasm to begin bargaining suggests that he does not intend to abandon the Brooklyn school, a possibility some observers privately raised after the teachers first said they wanted to form a union. Charter school operators, including Levin, who is among the most high-profile representatives of the charter school movement in America, have often said they like the model expressly because it affords flexibility on hiring and firing staff. Levin declared just that in a Washington Post op/ed days before his Brooklyn teachers announced that they wanted to form a union.

Here’s the union’s press release:

Teachers at KIPP’s AMP Academy Are Officially Certified as a Union Bargaining Unit

The New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) has voted to certify the teachers at KIPP’s AMP Academy as a recognized collective bargaining unit of the United Federation of Teachers. The decision was made during PERB’s monthly meeting in Albany, and clears the way for the teachers and their union to collectively bargain with KIPP.

“This ruling by PERB was a huge step toward creating a voice for teachers in KIPP’s quest for school excellence,” said UFT President Randi Weingarten. “We are pleased with KIPP’s reaction to the ruling, and likewise after talking with the teachers today, we are ready, willing and able to negotiate a contract that is good for kids and fair for teachers.”

“On behalf of our union, we are excited about this step forward for our KIPP AMP team and family.  It will allow us to find even better ways to educate our KIPPsters,” said Luisa Bonifacio and Leila Chakravarty, two members of the union organizing committee.

“Charters have a place in public education,” continued Weingarten, “and unions are not impediments to their success, despite some claims to the contrary. We need to get past the politics of conflict by working together and making sure that all New York City public school children attend a quality public school. We also need to make sure that educators are respected, supported and have a professional voice. In the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that both parties are moving forward with, we look forward to meeting with the teachers at KIPP Academy and KIPP Infinity in the coming weeks to have a conversation around the issues they have raised.”

The KIPP AMP Academy Charter School was founded in 2005 and currently serves approximately 260 students in grades 5 – 8. The school day has extended hours, and students also attend programs on the weekends and during the summer.

In January, a majority of teachers at KIPP AMP signed union authorization cards to be represented by the UFT. In a letter the organizing committee delivered to the school’s co-principals on January 13th, the teachers said that they had decided to unionize in order to secure a stronger voice in their school and to develop a more collaborative workplace.

The UFT operates three unionized charter schools, the newest of which is a Bronx High School run in collaboration with Green Dot, a successful and labor-friendly charter school operator and educational reform organization based in Los Angeles. The UFT also represents educators at several other successful charters in New York City.

Here’s KIPP’s release:

KIPP AMP Charter School Statement Regarding Certification of
KIPP AMP Bargaining Unit by the NYS Public Employment Relations Board

KIPP AMP has always embraced its responsibilities to our students, families and staff and we recognize our responsibility to bargain with the UFT.  We will engage in these discussions in good faith while prioritizing our ability to keep the promises we’ve made to parents – to help their children develop the character and academic skills necessary to succeed in college and beyond.

The process we are about to begin has many important stakeholders, only some of whom will be sitting at the bargaining table.  KIPP AMP believes that our parents, students, teachers and the broader community are entitled to understand what is in our hearts and minds.  In that spirit, we offer what’s below.  Consistent with our collective bargaining duties, what follows does not represent a fixed bargaining position; nor does it signal an unwillingness to consider in good faith any proposed terms.  It is a discussion of who we are and what we focus on doing every day.

We are eager to begin bargaining and invite the UFT to schedule our first meeting as soon as possible.

KIPP’s Five Pillars
KIPP’s approach to managing schools and teaching children is grounded in a core set of our principles known as the Five Pillars:

1. High Expectations. KIPP schools have clearly defined and measurable high expectations for academic achievement and conduct that make no excuses based on the students’ backgrounds. Students, parents, teachers, and staff create and reinforce a culture of achievement and support through a range of formal and informal rewards and consequences for academic performance and behavior.

2. Choice & Commitment. Students, their parents, and the faculty of each KIPP school choose <http://www.kipp.org/01/commitment.cfm>  to participate in the program. No one is assigned or forced to attend a KIPP school. Everyone must make and uphold a commitment to the school and to each other to put in the time and effort required to achieve success.

3. More Time. KIPP schools know that there are no shortcuts when it comes to success in academics and life. With an extended school day, week, and year, students have more time in the classroom to acquire the academic knowledge and skills that will prepare them for competitive high schools and colleges, as well as more opportunities to engage in diverse extracurricular experiences.

4. Power to Lead. The principals of KIPP schools are effective academic and organizational leaders who understand that great schools require great school leaders. They have control over their school budget and personnel. They are free to swiftly move dollars or make staffing changes, allowing them maximum effectiveness in helping students learn.

5. Focus on Results. KIPP schools relentlessly focus on high student performance on standardized tests and other objective measures. Just as there are no shortcuts, there are no excuses. Students are expected to achieve a level of academic performance that will enable them to succeed at the nation’s best high schools and colleges.

Implementing the Five Pillars

The key to KIPP’s success since 1994 has been our supremely talented teachers, who join us in part because of their belief in the Five Pillars.  Their hard work, dedication and sacrifice drive KIPP’s consistently outstanding results.  Our schools have been among the highest performing in their districts and throughout New York City. Over 80% of KIPP NYC alumni have matriculated to college and, in the coming years, nearly 75% of our middle school graduates will earn college degrees within six years of completing high school. These statistics are eight times higher than the national average for children of similar backgrounds.

Like all KIPP NYC schools, KIPP AMP is committed to attracting and working with teachers who prize the art and craft of teaching – individuals who passionately pursue excellence and embrace implementation of the Five Pillars.  Examples of the Five Pillars in practice include the following:

KIPP’s focus on student performance compels us to use a wide array of assessments including standardized tests, teacher-generated tests and assignments and other interim achievement measures.  Evaluation of teachers and principals is also performance-based and relies upon a variety of factors including daily classroom management, instructional preparation and delivery and, ultimately, student academic performance throughout the year.

Acknowledging there are no shortcuts when it comes to success in academics and life, our students, parents and staff have been committed to an extended school day, week and year since KIPP was founded in 1994.  Staff work schedules – for teachers, principals and administrators – have consistently reflected this commitment.

KIPP teachers and administrators share an understanding that every part of the school day counts.  Guided by this philosophy, the staff has taken on responsibilities such as meeting with parents, visiting students at home, supervising meals, covering for absent colleagues and participating in co-curricular activities and field trips.

Principals, teachers and administrative staff at KIPP AMP know that, to maximize accountability, employment at our school has been subject to the discretion of school leadership charged with ensuring outstanding academic performance.  Critical to our culture, a grievance process ensures fairness by providing for a multi-level review of principals’ decisions.  All concerns or disputes concerning KIPP policies and procedures have been subject to this review process since 1995.