contract sport

UFT applies pressure to a charter school balking at pay raises

Frustrated by two years of contract negotiations, the city’s teachers union is pressuring a unionized Queens charter school to make a deal.

United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew and other union officials held a news conference in front of Merrick Academy-Queens Public Charter School today to protest the school’s contract with a for-profit educational management organization. According to the UFT, over the last four years Merrick Academy’s board has paid over $8 million to Victory Schools, a figure that Mulgrew said was “astronomical.”

At the center of the UFT’s rally today is its ongoing contract talks with the school. Union officials said the school’s board has been dragging its feet on negotiations.

In 2007, an overwhelming majority of teachers at Merrick Academy voted to make the UFT their exclusive bargaining agent, but since then the UFT and school’s board have yet to reach a contract agreement.

Merrick Academy board chair Gerald Karikari said the union is pushing for the school to pay teachers the same salary that regular public schools offer, something he says the school can’t afford to do given the freeze in state aid. Two years ago, the school did pay roughly what districts schools pay, but since then teachers have been without a contract and without raises.

“The union is well aware that charter schools aren’t getting the same per-pupil rate,” Karikari said. “So it’s difficult for me to understand why they would tell their members this is something they’re definitely entitled to and it’s completely unfair if you’re not making what UFT members are making.”

Mulgrew said the school could afford to increase teachers’ salaries if it wasn’t overpaying its management organization.

“They’re telling us they don’t have money so we started looking through their books and they don’t have money because the Victory charter management company is taking all of it,” he said.

Karikari said the issue of payments to Victory Schools was “somewhat of a red herring.”

“The company didn’t stop teachers from receiving raises,” he said. “We couldn’t increase teacher salaries because we’re in the middle of negotiations.”

Merrick signed a contract with Victory Schools before Karikari joined the board, but he said he would reconsider the school’s contract with the organization when it expires next year.

“I have promised them a very very serious review of the management agreement and will definitely address those costs and look at other options in terms of the management of the school,” he said.

The union is also accusing Merrick’s board of hiring an anti-union law firm to represent them in the contract talks.

Mulgrew said that if negotiations don’t move at a faster pace, the union would declare an impasse and move on to state arbitration.

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In smaller gun violence protests, hundreds of students walk out of NYC schools to mark Columbine anniversary

PHOTO: Drew Angerer
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Student activists rally against gun violence at Washington Square Park, near the campus of New York University, April 20, 2018 in New York City. On the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting, student activists across the country are participating in school walkouts to demand action on gun reform. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

From Brooklyn to the Bronx, students left their classrooms Friday to protest gun violence in demonstrations that were smaller but no less than passionate than last month’s massive walkout.

This time around, school officials weren’t giving a free pass to students for skipping school to protest — the Department of Education said there could be repercussions and Chancellor Richard Carranza urged students to stay in class because “you don’t have to be out of school all day to make your voices known. You’ve already made your voices known.”

According to the Department of Education, attendance on Friday was 89.89 percent, down just slightly from Thursday’s attendance of 91.36 percent. But that number might not account for students who briefly left school to attend protests after the school day started.

The walkout was designed to protest gun violence and planned for the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.

Many of the demonstrators gathered in Washington Square Park for a “die-in.” But other students stayed close to home, such as the School for Global Leaders on the Lower East Side. Here are some photos and videos shared on Twitter that give a sense of the walkout’s scope in New York.

#NationalSchoolWalkout

Carranza discourages student participation in Friday’s gun violence walkout — which could come with consequences

PHOTO: Courtesy photo/P.S. 261
Students at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn walked out of class in March to honor the victims of the Parkland, Fla. shooting and call for stricter gun control laws.

Last month, 100,000 students streamed out of city classrooms to protest gun violence, demonstrations condoned by the mayor and education department officials.

Similar but scaled-down protests are being planned for Friday, but with a major difference — students are more likely to face consequences for walking out of their classes this time.

For the March 14 walkout, held on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17, city education department officials laid out clear rules meant to facilitate student participation. Anyone who left school for the scheduled protest but returned immediately afterward would not be marked absent.

This week, students who are not in school will be marked absent, according to the education department.

At his first town hall meeting with students, Chancellor Richard Carranza implored them not to walk out of class this week.

“I supported it in March,” he said. “This one — I don’t think it’s the same thing.”

Instead, Carranza said, students should focus on having conversations about the issue inside their schools. “You don’t have to be out of school all day to make your voices known. You’ve already made your voices known.”

The department’s revised approach comes as activists planning the day of action worry that focus on gun control policy is diminishing as the Parkland shooting recedes into the past. That shooting has inspired a sustained protest movement led largely by students, but other topics have pushed it out of headlines in recent weeks.

Indeed, advocates are expecting a smaller turnout this time around, with about a dozen New York City schools registered on the national organizing page — including Bard High School Early College Queens and Stuyvesant High School.

One of the biggest demonstrations is expected to be an afternoon rally at Washington Square park, but other schools are opting for a day of action within their own buildings — and some students say they are prioritizing other ways of making a difference.

“We will be hosting a lunch and learn and creating kindness cards,” Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice junior Robina Afzal said in an email. “We don’t feel the walkouts are most effective. Instead we can stay in school and create a change.”

PHOTO: Courtesy photo/P.S. 261
Fifth-grade students at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn are planning to walk out of school on April 20, marking the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. They will head to borough hall and deliver letters to their local U.S. representative calling for stricter gun control laws.

At M.S. 51 in Brooklyn, students will take part in a day of assemblies where they will write letters to elected officials to demand action on issues that are important to young people.

“We want to balance our walkout and take real action that might influence policy-makers, rather than making another powerful public statement,” according to a press release sent by the middle school students there.

P.S. 261 in Brooklyn is one of the few elementary schools expected to participate on Friday. The fifth grade students have assigned themselves organizing tasks, with separate working groups dedicated to poster-making, writing original freedom songs, and even a media team. They plan to march to Borough Hall, where students will stand in a circle, sing, and chant to draw attention to young lives lost to gun violence every day across the United States.

“I think we should do it outside of the school because more people can see us walking out, because this is very important,” said Bayan Clark, a fifth-grader who is helping to organize the event. “Kids get shot every single day and it’s not just in school. It’s also outside.”

Principal Jackie Allen said such social actions are woven into the school’s teaching and learning.

When Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida, students wore black armbands in solidarity with protesters who drew attention to racial profiling and bias. When President Trump proposed an immigration ban on majority-Muslim countries, they marched around their school and created posters to signal that everyone is welcome at P.S. 261.

Ever since the Parkland shooting, students have been tackling issues around gun violence, writing letters to local elected representatives and making connections to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We try to make sure the curriculum is relevant,” Allen said. “What’s happening in the world, it does make our way into the classrooms and kids want to talk about it.”

“We want to reflect democratic values,” she said. “We want kids to take social action and develop social awareness.”