Michigan Union Files Unfair Labor Complaint Against Chippewa Charter School

* The balloon finally went up in Sault Ste. Marie. The Michigan Education Association (MEA) filed an unfair labor practices complaint against administrators of the Joseph K. Lumsden Bahweting Anishnabe charter school on the local Chippewa reservation. Neither the tribe nor the school has been subtle in expressing displeasure over the decision of the school’s 33 teachers to unionize.

Upon hearing of the union vote, tribal leaders announced they would freeze Bureau of Indian Affairs funding that provides more than half of the school’s operating budget, though school officials say Bahweting will remain open even without that money. Tribal Chairman Aaron Payment threatened to let the school’s charter expire at the end of the year, and then open a new, non-union charter school next year, in which the teachers would be tribal employees on loan to the school.

“The Sault Tribe’s concern is with the union,” said school Superintendent Nick Oshelski. “If the union was to go away, so would the problem: that’s my feeling.”

MEA is understandably upset at this turn of events, and filed charges with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. MEA organizer David Crim said the situation was reminiscent of “the worst horror stories about anti-union employers from the early days of unionism in our state.”

Oshelski was the only individual named in the complaint. Ironically, Oshelski used to be the vice president of the Sault Area Education Association, a local MEA affiliate.

* It’s closing in on election day in California, and you’re likely to hear a lot of caterwauling about teachers and kids and schools, but very little about the quality of the state’s public education system. Nanette Asimov of the San Francisco Chronicle reports today on California’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math tests. She provides an excellent capsulized review of where the state has been, and how years of education reforms and vast quantities of dollars have lifted the state from the bottom of the rankings all the way up to… the bottom of the rankings. A must read.

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CTA to Return At Least $316 to Fee Payers

In California, as in many other states, teachers who do not wish to join the union must still pay an agency fee. However, fee payers cannot be forced to contribute to the union’s political and ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining. Each year the union’s lawyers compute what percentage of the organization’s activities are chargeable to fee payers. The non-chargeable percentage is then reimbursed to the fee payer.

This week, the California Teachers Association issued its calculations for the 2005-06 school year to its estimated 30,000 fee payers. The percentages computed by CTA mean that each fee-payer will have at least $315.93 in dues money returned to him or her.

Here’s the breakdown:

* NEA dues are $140, 49 percent of which the national union has deemed is for political and ideological activities ($68.60).

* CTA dues are $543, 34.5 percent of which the state union has deemed is for political and ideological activities ($187.33).

* Additionally, CTA will refund the entire $60 special assessment for its campaign against the governor’s initiatives.

That equals a minimum of $315.93. But most California teachers also pay dues to a local CTA affiliate. The amount varies from zero to more than $200. In any case, CTA applies the state percentage to its locals as well, meaning fee payers will also get 34.5 percent of their local dues returned to them.

All told, resigning from CTA and accepting fee payer status will bring some teachers close to $400 in rebated dues.

The downside is a loss of union voting rights, liability insurance coverage, and access to member-only benefits the union offers.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation set up a handy web page outlining the procedure for becoming a fee payer for 2005-06. The deadline is November 15.

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School Board Soap Opera

* I know many of you think you have the worst school board in the world, and that nothing can match the hijinks you see every day. But I’m betting you can’t top the Baldwin-Whitehall School District in Pennsylvania.

Board member Beverly Coon is up for reelection on Nov. 8, but she might have a small campaign problem since being barred from entering any district school or attending any school activity. You see, Ms. Coon was arrested last week on charges of attempted homicide, arson, risking catastrophe, criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and stalking. She was released on $100,000 bail.

While Ms. Coon was separated from her husband, she had a two-year-long affair with Dr. Ronald Grimm, the superintendent of the nearby Bethel Park School District. When Dr. Grimm tried to break off the relationship, Ms. Coon allegedly fed him sedative-laced pastries and then set his bed on fire. Dr. Grimm was burned in the fire that destroyed his apartment, but he escaped serious injury. He has not yet returned to work.

Ms. Coon’s attorney says the evidence against her is circumstantial.

The school board can ban Ms. Coon from school buildings, but it must continue to allow her to attend school board meetings. Meanwhile, Ms. Coon is running for reelection on a slate that includes Michael Stelmasczyk and Edward Moeller. Mr. Stelmasczyk has spent much of the last week covering the name of Ms. Coon on his lawn signs and campaign posters with purple tape.

“I think the stores are running out of the [purple] tape,” he said.

* It’s natural to get lost in the predicaments of the present, so it’s welcome news to hear an international research group conclude that there has been “a dramatic, but largely unknown, decline in the number of wars, genocides and human rights abuses over the past decade.”

The Human Security Report, funded by the governments of Canada, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Britain, credit this happy state of affairs on the fall of the Soviet Union. I feel an odd mix of contentment and shame that U.S. students will soon have blank looks on their faces when the subject of the U.S.S.R. arises.

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Unionized Charter School Teachers Forced to Circle the Wagons

* EIA reported yesterday on the union representation election at the Joseph K. Lumsden Bahweting Anishnabe charter school in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Thirty-three teachers are now represented by the Michigan Education Association (MEA). The school is located on the reservation of the Chippewa Tribe and is supported by tribal funds.

But my story missed the ongoing drama the union vote caused. Evidently the Chippewa tribal leaders really, really, really don’t want a union in their school. And, since they operate under a different set of rules than the state of Michigan, they have laid out a set of options that wouldn’t fly elsewhere. It should make for an interesting, if convoluted, legal battle should MEA get booted off the reservation.

* Quote of the Day: “Dwight (Schultz, who played A Team‘s Howling Mad Murdoch) and I are doing a radio show in Montana. We’re calling it ‘Dirk and Dwight’s one-man show.’ I play piano, he sings, we do a few songs and we discuss the politics of The A Team — how the liberal left went after us, how the National Education Association and teacher’s unions tried to get us off the air. Yet all my fans today are 32-year-old guys who watched it with mom and dad. The teachers unions would love to have it back now instead of Paris Hilton having sex.” — actor Dirk Benedict, who played Face on the 1980s TV show The A Team.

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Charter School Labor Relations

* Here’s a story you won’t see too often. The Grossmont Union High School District is involved in a bitter contract dispute with the local teachers’ union. But the district contains the Helix Charter High School, run by an independent board of directors, whose teachers are also represented by the local teachers’ union.

The district’s regular teachers appear to be headed for a strike, but the charter school teachers have already settled a contract with Helix’s board of directors. Now Helix’s parents are demanding that the Grossmont district release the funds to pay for the new contract. They fear their settlement will be held hostage by the poor relationship between the district and the union.

Maybe that vaunted charter school flexibility also oozes into labor relations. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

* Last week, Intercepts noted that the Cleveland public schools seemed to have made a tiny little error in counting their excused student absences for the year. Yesterday, a Cleveland school official acknowledged that the correct number of absences was not 620, but 519,000. This is an error roughly equivalent to inviting the Members of Congress, the Cabinet and the Supreme Court to a charity event and having the entire population of Washington, DC show up.

* Outpost of the Odd: A college student has sued her school under the Americans with Disabilities Act because it won’t let her keep her pet ferret in the dormitory. University officials can avoid the suit by claiming the Endangered Species Act requires them to keep one of these in the dormitory as well.

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Oh Canada!

* Our neighbors to the north are dealing with an illegal teacher strike in an intriguing way. The British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that the 40,000 member British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) can no longer issue strike pay, or spend any union funds in support of the strike. That means no spending on communications, signs or any other method to further the job action. The court appointed a monitor to oversee the BCTF books to enforce the ruling.

This was actually a half-measure, as the court decided not to freeze the union’s operating funds, or send anyone to jail for contempt of court. The BCTF web site hasn’t addressed the ruling, but the page is still loaded with strike news and information, so we’ll see if there is a showdown brewing.

Washington Education Association President Charles Hasse addressed BCTF rallies in Sooke and Vancouver Island earlier this week. EIA is reminded of the near-strike in Issaquah in 2002 and wonders if WEA is still giving the same advice (see “Why ‘No Strike’ Laws Are a Waste of Paper“).

* The Liberty Counsel, a Christian conservative law firm, and the Christian Educators Association International are teaming up on an education and litigation campaign to see to it that Christmas celebrations are permitted in public schools and government offices and buildings. This isn’t a new battle. These folks, among others, have been trying to put Christ back in Christmas for years. Adeste fideles!

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