As a delegate at the 2012 OEA Spring Representative Assembly, I was honored to be part of the official governing body of the OEA, and it was also good to see old friends and debate new ideas.
The delegates made several important decisions this year. We elected a new Secretary Treasurer, Tim Myers of Elida EA. We supported the Voters First Initiative to reform the redistricting process to be fair, open and honest. And we also voted to begin organizing charters.
On my way home to Akron, I spent most of the drive thinking about the latter decision and the debate leading up to it.
One member opposed to the motion stated succinctly, “Can we organize teachers in the very schools we have advocated against?”
The thought had crossed my mind as well. How do we organize teachers who are not held to the same accountability standards as traditional public school teachers? How do we push forward our agenda and ask for equitable funding for both school models when there are such vast differences?
Ultimately, the answer to these questions occurred to me: It won’t be easy, but it can be done.
Charter schools are not going to go away. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) announced at the end of last year that the number of students attending public charter schools across the nation has surpassed two million.
So, as long as charters exist, shouldn’t those teachers be licensed and given compensation equitable to their public school counterparts? For the last few years, different groups across the country have begun organizing charter school unions and we can learn from their efforts and mistakes.
And here’s the other thing that may not seem related at first. There are many public officials who are happy to see OEA become smaller, even though it’s caused layoffs caused in turn by massive school budget cuts. Why? Because they want to bust the unions and silence our collective voice. We learned that with SB 5 and Issue 2.
What does that have to do with organizing charter school employees? Because the smaller an organization we become, the less influence we have to help elect responsible legislators who support a positive agenda that puts students at the center of reform, who want to invest in classroom priorities that build the foundation for student learning and who want to ensure that every student has a qualified, caring, committed teacher — in short, elected officials who support reform for our failing charter schools. Organizing charter school educators is both the right thing to do and necessary to us as an organization.
Even if I don’t agree with our state laws governing how our charter schools are run, I am a teacher and a taxpayer. I can’t ignore that teachers need improved working conditions and better pay, and students need innovative learning environments. In the long run, students, teachers, and citizens will benefit from organizing charter schools in Ohio.
By Susan Ridgeway, Wooster Education Association