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Teachers' Union in Denver Backs Charter School

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The Denver teachers' union has agreed to back a charter school being opened by a longtime public educator who plans to hire only certified teachers.

Both the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the National Education Association have in the past been vocal critics of charter schools--independent public schools established free of most school district rules and bureaucracy.

The unions now say, however, that they will not oppose charter schools that meet their criteria for improving public education.

The Thurgood Marshall Charter Middle School is an alternative school that a longtime Denver teacher, Cordia Booth, hopes to open in the fall.

She said she plans to hire state-licensed educators and maintain a salary schedule as close as possible to that of the Denver school district.

Leonard Fox, the president of the Denver teachers' group, said his union remains opposed to most charter schools, but is making an exception in the case of the Thurgood Marshall school.

"This is the only charter talking about using certificated teachers, and they have expressed an interest in having a relationship," he said. "It's a special case."

Mr. Fox also noted that because the school has already been approved, "we can oppose it all we want, but those are our potential members in that school."

The agreement allows the union to represent teachers employed by the charter school and allows the school to communicate with Denver teachers through the union's communications lines.

"That permits us to avoid having to go through a central school administration that doesn't like us," said Ms. Booth, who is a science teacher at Hill Middle School in Denver.

Battles With District

Ms. Booth has battled with the school district over the charter school for more than a year, and the fight is not over.

The Denver school board twice rejected her charter-school application, but the state board of education sided with Ms. Booth in an appeal. (See Education Week, June 1, 1994.)

Ms. Booth has continued to face difficulties in negotiating a charter contract with Denver school officials, so she recently filed a lawsuit against the district.

The district "believes we have only won the right to negotiate," she said. "We believe the state board mandated we have the right to open in the fall."

The suit in Denver district court asks for an injunction requiring the local school board to comply with the decision of the state board and grant a charter for the Thurgood Marshall school. The chief point of contention is over how much per-pupil revenue the school will get. State law requires that such schools get at least 80 percent of the usual per-student allotment, but Ms. Booth is seeking more.

"We have designed our school so that teachers take over the administrative duties, so we don't have to rely on a central bureaucracy," she said.

Pat Mooney, a lawyer for the Denver school board, said the district would fight the suit because it is unclear whether the state board has ordered Denver to approve the Thurgood Marshall charter application as submitted.

"It's not clear exactly what the state board has said," Mr. Mooney said. "That will be one of the issues in the lawsuit."

Critical Eye

Andrea DiLorenzo, a senior policy analyst with the National Education Association, said the Denver union's agreement fits the national union's goal because the N.E.A. is willing to back charter schools that meet its criteria for improving public education.

"Our position is not to encourage everybody to fight charter schools," she said. "It is to encourage them to look at charter schools from a critical point of view."

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