Teachers at Alliance charter group push to form union

Largest Los Angeles charter group gets notice that some teachers want to form union

Teachers at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools—the largest charter organization in Los Angeles — are taking initial steps toward forming a union. If successful, the move could reverse years of decline for the Los Angeles teachers union.

Nearly 70 teachers and counselors on Friday sent a letter to leaders at the high-performing charter group explaining their intention to partner with United Teachers Los Angeles. The letter asked for "a fair and neutral process" that would allow educators to organize without fear of retaliation.

“We believe that when teachers have a respected voice in policy-making it leads to school sustainability and teacher retention,” said Elana Goldbaum, who teaches history at Gertz-Ressler High School. “We have a lot of talent and we want to see that stay. We want to see our teachers be a part of the decision-making, and we want to advocate for our students and ourselves.”

Charter schools are independently managed, publicly funded and mostly, non-union.

Unionizing would require majority support from the 500-plus teachers and counselors at Alliance charter schools. Leaders of the 11,000-student charter organization said Friday that they were just learning of efforts to unionize by the group of employees.

"That is their right," said Howard Lappin, chief schools officer for the charter group.

"We acknowledge the rights of our teachers to undertake this effort. We also recognize that our teachers are under no obligation to participate," said a statement from Judy Burton, president and chief executive and Dan Katzir, incoming president and chief executive.

Aside from calling for a greater voice in decisions that affect teaching, educators who want to form a union also said their main priorities include teacher retention, small class sizes, due process rights, budget transparency and fair evaluations and compensation.

"We hope that they can see the benefit in working together, and I think they will," Goldbaum said.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo Pearl said it was no secret that the union wants to help charter school teachers organize. About 1,000 of UTLA's more than 31,000 members work in charter schools, Caputo Pearl said.

Charters have been increasing in Los Angeles at a rapid pace. Currently, more than 100,000 students, or 15% of L.A. Unified School District enrollment, attend charters, the most of any school system in the nation.

The group of Alliance educators "have enough of a critical mass now, across enough schools, among enough influential teacher leaders," Caputo Pearl said. "The next step in the process is to be able to speak about this openly and decide where the larger group of teachers wants to go around this question."

Alliance College-Ready Public Schools started in 2004 and has grown to 26 campuses. Philanthropist Eli Broad donated more than $6 million in 2007 to help the charter organization expand.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan is among the city leaders who sit on the charter group's board of directors.

 Twitter: @zahiratorres

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