Dayton Union Nixes Plan for Edison To Run Charters
The teachers' union in Dayton, Ohio, has squelched a plan to turn over the management of five troubled schools in that city to the Edison Project.
Superintendent James A. Williams strongly favored the proposal to allow the for-profit, New York City-based company to run the schools.
With a show of hands, a majority of teachers at an April 22 meeting of the Dayton Education Association voted not to reopen contract negotiations that might have given the company the leeway it said it needed to turn the schools around.
Teachers "have worked too long and too hard to get the contract language they've got to give it up," said Joyce Fulwiler Shawan, the president of the 1,900-member affiliate of the National Education Association.
She said Edison wanted teachers to work longer days and a longer school year for what would amount to less than their current hourly wages.
Equally important, "we did not want to turn our classrooms into corporate classrooms," she added. "We want the bottom line to be kids and not profit."
But Superintendent Williams called the vote "devastating for this community. I think it's going to hurt us badly in the long run."
He said that with a privately funded voucher plan set to send 1,000 Dayton students to private schools in the fall and with new charter schools on the near horizon, the district needs to find new ways of improving. For example, Mr. Williams said, enrollment loss from those initiatives would lead to layoffs, and because of contractual rules, younger teachers would be the first teachers to go.
New Charter Law
The union's vote was set against a complicated backdrop created by Ohio's new charter school legislation. ("Ohio Carves Out Funding for Charter School Pilot Program," July 9, 1997.)
The law provides for the independent, publicly funded schools to start up in the state's eight largest cities, including Dayton. It also allows existing schools to convert to charter status anywhere in the state with local school board approval.
Earlier this year, the Dayton board gave such approval to a local nonprofit group, Dayton Community Schools, which proposed hiring the Edison Project to run three elementary and two middle schools with track records of low student achievement. The group, convened by Mr. Williams, included local college and business leaders.
Edison currently manages 25 public schools in eight states, many of them charter schools.2
Mr. Williams said he had been eyeing the company for some time because he liked its package of reading and math emphasis, a longer school day and year, and ongoing staff development.
But Edison's plan required waivers of some provisions in the teachers' contract, which the union members last month refused to consider.
Union officials at both the local and state levels readily admit, however, that more than issues of salary and hours are at stake. A populous state with a strong history of organized labor, Ohio was considered a challenge by many in the charter school movement, and union officials seem determined to draw the line at schools managed by private, for-profit companies.
"We will not support any private, for-profit corporation coming into any public school at the expense of the children," said Michael Billirakis, the president of the Ohio Education Association.
Edison officials, who could not be reached for comment last week, have said they will move forward with plans for a start-up charter school in Dayton, this time seeking approval from the state school board.
The Alliance for Education, a Dayton advocacy group that failed to win local board approval for a charter, is also applying to the state board, Mr. Williams said.
Also going forward with plans is the charitable group Concerned Christian Men, which also won local board approval for a school conversion proposal. The group wants to convert a district elementary school where some of its members have worked to charter status by the fall.
Vol. 17, Issue 35, Page 5