Allie Gross has reported in-depth on education issues in Detroit.
In this article, which appeared in Metro Times, she gives the context and background of the sudden closure of University YES Academy’s high school. High school students were told with only two weeks’ notice that they had to find a new school. One student she interviewed was just starting her senior year and was shocked to learn she had to find a new school at the last minute.
There is a backstory, and it relates to the school’s efforts to keep a union out.
“WHILE THE INSTABILITY FELT by the high schoolers at UYA Monday may seem like an isolated incident, it’s in fact one of several topsy-turvy occurrences that have transpired over the past few months — and really years.
“UYA, which opened its doors to sixth-grade students in the fall of 2010, came into local spotlight in the spring of 2015 when staff made public their desires to unionize. The decision was ill-received by the school’s then-charter management company, New Urban Learning (NUL), and by April NUL announced that it would be leaving UYA.
“We believe that a larger charter management organization with more resources and fresh ideas would better enable UYA to meet its 90-90-90 goals — game changing goals we believe are attainable,” the letter forwarded to the staff by Lesley Ester Redwine, the CEO of NUL, read.
“The news was crushing for staff, as the resignation of NUL meant that should the staff vote in favor of a union (which they did a few weeks later) they would have nobody to bargain with. At charter schools, the management company is the employer not the school board — which means the departure of the management company is also the departure of the employer the staff hoped to bargain with. More dispiriting, the departure of NUL (the employer) meant that everyone on staff was terminated and had to re-apply for their jobs. At the start of the following school year, only 17 of the school’s 68 employees had been there the year prior.
“While these were clear signs of instability there was one consistency. After leaving the school as NUL, Redwine created a new management company — InspirED Education — and submitted an RFP to run the school under the new company. The board decided to go with Redwine’s new company. In other words: the management company more or less stayed the same, but the obligation to bargain was gone. Redwine argued that she did not need to bargain because InspirED was not at the school at the time of the union vote and that the majority of the staff had changed since then.
“What complicates this story — and the instability seen at UYA — is what occurred next. In March the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint, alleging that Redwine created an “alter ego corporation” (InspirED Education) in order to avoid collective bargaining with the UYA staff, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of union representation in the spring of 2015. By May the school’s charter authorizer, Bay Mills Community College (located about 342 miles aways from the school), sent a letter of revocation, saying the school was at risk of losing its charter.
“In June, reports Michigan Radio, the school board struck a deal with the authorizer, which promised to get the school back into “good standings” if it dropped Redwine’s management company and found a new company to run the operations.
“This is where things get particularly tricky.
“At the end of June Redwine signed a settlement with Michigan ACTS promising to bargain with the staff; however, two days before the settlement agreement was signed, the UYA board announced their intentions to sign a contact with New Paradigm, a local charter management company run by self-proclaimed “education entrepreneur” Ralph Bland. While the board essentially had to find a new management company to keep the school open, the move once again shook up the school. For a second year in a row, the entire staff was fired and asked to re-apply for their jobs, and once again the obligation to bargain was voided. The big difference this time around is how it would so directly affect the students.”
While the charter operators were playing their games, the students were an after-thought. They were referred to other charters managed by the same corporation.
It is a shameful story: a business run by people who are indifferent to their students.