Miami-Dade Teachers' Union Partners With Edison on Charter Plan

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The teachers' union in Miami-Dade County, Fla., has joined with an unlikely partner—Edison Schools Inc.—in a proposal to build and manage 10 charter schools to help serve the district's bulging enrollment.

United Teachers of Dade, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, would receive the charter from the Miami-Dade district and would hire Edison to run seven elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school by 2003, under a proposal jointly announced by the two organizations this month.

New York City-based Edison, the nation's largest school-management company, has run one public elementary school in Miami-Dade County, the nation's fourth-largest district, since 1996. The company was greeted skeptically by the local union when it began managing Henry S. Reeves Elementary in Miami that year, and it faced several labor problems early in its tenure there.

But matters have been smoother since then. In 1998, Edison teachers at Reeves Elementary became the first to enroll in the company's stock-option program.

"We think there have been tremendous strides at Reeves," said Annette Katz, the spokeswoman for United Teachers of Dade. "We think Edison has a good system that we can work with."

Benno C. Schmidt Jr., Edison's chairman, called the partnership a "breakthrough" in relations between the teachers' union and the company.

"This is the first time there has been an alliance of this kind and with this kind of scale," he said.

United Teachers of Dade plans to submit a charter school application to the district by Oct. 1. If a school system committee gives its approval, union and district officials will negotiate the charters while Edison looks for sites to house the schools, Ms. Katz said. Once those steps had been taken, the Miami-Dade school board would vote on whether to grant the charters.

'Pioneering' Approaches

Under the plan, seven elementary schools would open in 2001, serving some 1,000 children each. One middle school would open that year and another in 2002, with each serving some 1,600 students. A 2,000-student high school would open in 2003.

Miami- Dade has long been one of the fastest-growing districts in the country. Enrollment this fall is more than 358,000.

The teachers' union would head the governance board of the 10 charter schools and would hire Edison to manage them. Ms. Katz said teachers at the schools would work under the union's contract with the school district.

Some modifications could be made to Edison's curriculum and school design, based on suggestions from parents and teachers, officials said.

"Edison is willing to tweak its system," Ms. Katz said.

Mr. Schmidt said Edison and the union would work together on "pioneering some new approaches to recruitment, training, and certification" of teachers for the new schools.

The charter plan could result in about $9.5 million in public funding for school construction and facilities, and as much as $50 million a year in per-pupil operating revenue.

Though the AFT and the National Education Association generally oppose private management of public schools, Edison works closely with the unions in many cities. The company runs 108 schools with a total enrollment of some 57,000 students.

In New York City, the company has proposed converting as many as 45 troubled public schools into charter schools under its management. Mr. Schmidt said Edison is talking with the United Federation of Teachers, the AFT affiliate serving New York City's public school teachers, in hopes of getting the union's support for its plan. ("Companies, Nonprofits Jump at Chance To Manage N.Y.C. Schools," Sept. 6, 2000.)

Vol. 20, Issue 3, Page 5

Published in Print: September 20, 2000, as Miami-Dade Teachers' Union Partners With Edison on Charter Plan
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