The vice president of the board that governs the Choice Foundation, a three-school charter network in New Orleans, urged Lusher Charter School teachers last week to vote against forming a union, highlighting long-standing tensions between unions and charter schools.
Lusher is not among the schools run by the Choice Foundation.
Robbie Evans, who also is chief executive officer of the trading company Con-Tech International, said he decried unions in an email to dozens of Lusher teachers because he sees unions as an impediment to charter schools’ progress.
“My feeling is that charters need to be as autonomous as possible,” Evans said. “Obviously, you have to have a positive relationship with teachers, but I feel strongly that you can have a good relationship without a union and that you have a stronger chance of having a good relationship without a union.”
He told teachers in an email that the United Teachers of New Orleans — the union that a sizable contingent of Lusher faculty want to link up with — and its national parent group, the American Federation of Teachers, have “continually promoted anti-charter bills at the Louisiana legislative level” and have opposed what he said were significant educational reforms.
He also referred to “rubber rooms” long associated with New York’s public schools — temporary reassignment centers where union-represented teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence have been sent while they await rulings from independent arbitrators.
Throughout the waiting period — which at times lasted years — the teachers collected a salary but did not work in classrooms. The practice supposedly ended in 2010.
“If unionized, your school would move further in the direction of union-created deadlock where only ineffective and possibly abusive teachers would benefit,” he said. “The children who attend your school would be the ones who would suffer as a result.”
Local unions have fought against changes in teacher tenure laws and against charter school funding in recent years.
The AFT says charter schools tend to empower management at the expense of teachers, who are left without any job security or any formal means of influencing decision-making at their schools.
The question of whether Lusher administrators may attempt to sway teachers’ opinions and challenge a scheduled vote on unionization is being debated by members of that school’s independent board.
School CEO Kathy Riedlinger and her top deputies recently sent out a letter calling the unionizing attempt a divisive power grab that won’t benefit students. They also legally challenged a federal labor board’s authority to hold an election for teachers at the school on whether to form a union.
Three board members at Lusher then denounced those moves, saying they were in direct conflict with the board’s recent directive urging employees to remain neutral until the election.
Evans, who does not have a child at Lusher, said no administrators or board members at Lusher asked him to send his email.
He said he has gotten many negative responses but also some positive ones.
Union organizer and Lusher high school math teacher Jerome White said the email “upset quite a few of my colleagues.”
“What he thought he had to do with our business over here, I don’t know,” he said of Evans.