Charter school may exit union
Teachers cite frustration with state federation

By James Vaznis
Globe Staff / June 6, 2011

Teachers at the first charter school in Massachusetts to form a union are now debating whether to dissolve it, dealing a potential blow to an effort to unionize charter schools statewide.

Three years ago, when teachers at Brightonís Conservatory Lab Charter School formed a union, the elementary school quickly became a poster child for the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, the stateís second-largest teachers union, which had launched a charter-school unionization campaign.

The development stunned and embarrassed charter school supporters, who had long seen unions as antithetical to the very idea of these independent public schools, which rarely employ union teachers. They argued that it was the absence of unions at charter schools that allowed administrators to make quick changes to staffing and scheduling in the pursuit of innovation.

But now Conservatory Lab is facing dwindling union interest among its teachers and growing frustration over its affiliation with the federation, which frequently attacks the academic accomplishments of charter schools and last year tried unsuccessfully to block an aggressive expansion of these schools.

The teachers are weighing whether to stay affiliated with the federation or join a professional teacher group that is not a union organization. A decision is expected by the end of the month.

In many ways, the waning commitment reflects a fundamental challenge for the federation in organizing charter schools: Teacher turnover at these schools is typically high and new hires may not embrace a union, causing support to quickly dry up.