NJEA Public Charter Work Group holds ‘boot camp’ focused on unity

“The need to protect the rights and benefits of public school teachers in our charter schools has grown exponentially in recent years,” said Cindy Matute-Brown while addressing attendees of the 3rd Annual NJEA Public Charter Boot Camp held on Apr. 13 -14 at the Princeton Marriott.

Matute-Brown is the president of the Golden Door Charter School Education Association in Jersey City. She co-chairs the NJEA Public Charter Work Group (PCWG) with former Brunswick Charter Education Association President Peter Creekmore. Both leaders stressed what unionization means in a charter school.

“It is the difference between a stable and fair working environment, and chaos,” said Creekmore.

Creekmore is speaking of the rampant violation of workers’ rights and deplorable conditions for students and employees that occur in a number of unaffiliated corporate-run charters where management has made fighting unionization a top priority.

“Most NJEA members whom I speak with, understand the need for our organization to serve those seeking nondiscriminatory protection,” said Matute-Brown, though she and her members also report being treated differently by individuals who hold a negative view of charter school employees.

The conflict stems from a legislative funding issue that allows charter school management companies to take per pupil funds from the traditional public school in the town where a charter is established. This financial imbalance is something that members of both charter and traditional schools hope will change as a new governor and commissioner of education review the role of charter schools in New Jersey.

At the boot camp, the International Academy of Trenton Charter School Education Association received the Solidarity Award. IATSCSEA President Jody Tompsky holds the plaque.

Unionization benefits members

The NJEA Public Charter Boot Camp was developed to promote awareness of the facts and issues surrounding charter schools, to assist charter school members with their organizing efforts, and to help end the isolation that charter members feel when the facts and issues of their employment are misunderstood or misrepresented.

This year, NJEA members from charter and traditional schools traveled from every corner of the state to attend workshops presented by NJEA UniServ and Organizational Development representatives and consultants. Topics such as How to Organize a Local from Scratch and Member Engagement were discussed at length and open for questions.

Ryan Moser, president of the newly affiliated Mathematics, Engineering, Technology, and Science Education Association (METSEA), drove from Jersey City to participate.

“Working conditions were terrible prior to our organizing,” Moser said. “People talked about quitting all of the time.”

Moser and his members are encouraged that relations between administrators and members have improved. He reports that there is evidence forming new union has reduced staff turnover as employees become more confident that their concerns will be addressed.

As with traditional public schools, affiliation will not immediately solve every problem—especially if a charter’s governing board refuses the local’s attempt to build a relationship. Kathy Weber, president of the Classic Academy Charter Education Association in Clifton reports that the 11 members of her association are often “putting out fires.” They are small in numbers but mighty in resolve. The group attributes their solidarity to regular meetings and the constant communication that they have outside of school.

The Public Charter Boot Camp is designed to assist locals and members at every stage of their affiliation and activism. It is a great place to get started or to check in with members who share common experiences and issues. Attendance at this event increases each year as the need to support charter school members escalates.

For information on how to sign up for this and other NJEA Public Charter Work Group events, contact the group through NJEA External Organizing Specialist Marguerite Schroeder at schroedm@njea.org.

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