School Choice & Charters

The Tangled History of Charters and Unions in the Calif. Chief’s Race

By Arianna Prothero — October 29, 2014 2 min read
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By Andrew Ujifusa. Crossposted from the State EdWatch blog.

The California superintendent’s race between Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck is being advertised largely as a battle between the teachers’ unions going to bat for Torlakson

and the union foes and skeptics supporting Tuck.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has warned that Tuck would seek to privatize public schools and said during a California visit that the AFT would “do everything in our power to get Torlakson elected.” Tuck, the former president of Green Dot Public Schools, a network of charter schools, has castigated unions for not using their political clout to support needed changes in California’s K-12 system.

But Green Dot and Weingarten have a relationship that was at one point collaborative, not combative.

Green Dot’s founder and then-chairman Steve Barr worked with Weingarten, then the president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, to reach a three-year union contract for teachers at the Green Dot New York Charter School back in 2009. At the time, the UFT called it a “pioneering contract” because of its four-step grievance system of due process, a maximum class size of 30, and a 14 percent pay premium above the standard New York City Department of Education’s salary scale, among other features.

“At its core, this contract is about shared expectations and shared responsibility. Our educators are being asked to take a leading role in the success of their school, and they’re being provided with the professional supports needed to help make that success possible,” Weingarten said in a statement announcing the tentative agreement about the contract. She added that Green Dot has “an outstanding record of high student achievement.”

In a Chalkbeat New York story from 2009 discussing the contract before the tentative deal was announced, Barr told reporter Elizabeth Green that the aim of the slimmed-down contract was “to protect teachers and treat them as professionals,” according to the story. “We want teachers to be involved in almost every aspect of the school,” he said at the time.

This isn’t a neat “how times have changed” narrative. Tuck’s work with Green Dot focused on its Los Angeles charter schools, and he left Green Dot to take over the Partnership for L.A. Schools when it launched in 2008. Meanwhile, Barr’s ties to the Torlakson v. Tuck race are tricky—he’s officially keeping the organization he now leads, the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, out of the state superintendent’s election. But he’s donated money on a personal basis to Tuck. So Barr has not kept out of the race entirely.

Still, it’s an interesting hypothetical to consider: Five years after that 2009 UFT-Green Dot contract was struck in Gotham, would the same people and organizations be willing to strike the same kind of deal?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.