Lusher’s ‘Joan of Arc’ Kathy Riedlinger often a focus of controversy over admissions, discrimination claims _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Lusher Charter School's Alcee Fortier Campus is seen in New Orleans, La. Thursday, April 14, 2016.

A federal agency may oversee an upcoming teachers union election at Lusher Charter School in New Orleans, a regional director for that agency ruled Tuesday.

The ruling apparently clears the way for a May 17 union election at Lusher.

Many in the New Orleans charter school community have been closely following the Lusher saga.

Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger and her top deputies came out swinging against a union organizing drive not long after a divided Lusher governing board refused to voluntarily recognize a union petition that had been signed by 60 percent of the school’s educators, though a few later had second thoughts.

Later, when teachers petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election by secret ballot at the school, Riedlinger challenged the federal agency’s authority to interfere in Lusher’s affairs.

Lusher, a public charter school, is a “political subdivision” of the state — in effect a local government — and thus is free from the labor board’s oversight, a Lusher attorney argued during a recent hearing on the union issue.

That was a switch from Lusher’s previous stance in an unrelated lawsuit, in which it argued that it was not a local governing body.

The union the Lusher teachers seek to affiliate with, the United Teachers of New Orleans, also denied Lusher’s claim to status as a local government agency.

NLRB Regional Director M. Kathleen McKinney sided with the union Tuesday, saying that because Lusher administrators are not responsible to the voting public and it was not created by the state, it is not a local government, and the NLRB is free to host a union election.

“Entities created by private individuals are not ‘created directly by’ the state, even if they are created with the collaboration of the state to serve a public function on behalf of the state,” McKinney wrote, rejecting Lusher’s claim that charter schools are agents of the state because they are authorized by state law.

Also, McKinney said, even though Lusher attorneys argued that Lusher is subject to the oversight of the elected Orleans Parish School Board and via that oversight is accountable to the public, the Lusher board in fact selects its own members and there is no proof that Lusher board members have ever been appointed or removed by a public official or by the electorate.

Lusher administrators may request the national office of the NLRB to review McKinney’s decision, but that request will not postpone the election unless the agency specifically orders such a delay.

The Lusher decision has big implications as well for the International High School of New Orleans, another school where teachers seeking a union have requested an NLRB-managed election and the administration planned to challenge that board’s jurisdiction.

The election at International is scheduled for May 27.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.