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Detroit charter school teachers working to unionize

Liza Lagman Sperl

Teachers at three charter school districts in Detroit could vote as early as next month on whether to unionize.

Teachers at University YES, University Prep Academy and University Prep Science and Math have filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board to be represented by the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers & Staff (ACTS). ACTS is a union local affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

"We're concerned that some of the policies in our district at the moment lead to a lot of teacher turnover," said Patrick Sheehan, a second grade teacher at University Prep Science and Math and a member of the union organizing committee. "We're looking to put into place some policies that will better retain teachers so that they can develop professionally and so that teachers can, over many years, build strong, lasting relationships with students."

Sheehan says key issues are pay scales, the school calendar, and teachers having an official voice in decision-making.

Mark Ornstein, CEO for Detroit 90/90, the educational management organization for the two University Prep districts, said the effort to unionize is unfortunate.

"One of the hallmarks of our schools is really the close, direct working relationships that we have with our staff," said Ornstein. "And we believe that bringing in a union here all of a sudden brings in a third party that may not have the best interests for our teachers in mind."

Ornstein said the choice of the American Federation of Teachers is "absolutely mind-blowing because for years and years and years, the AFT has attempted to destroy charter schools."

Teachers at the three charter school districts are expected to vote in May whether to be represented by the American Federation of Teachers, according to Sheehan.