Employees Seek Unionization At Charter School

CANTON, Ohio (AP) - A movement has started to organize the first unionized staff at a charter school, and the principal has been fired for joining the effort.

The Ohio Association of Public School Employees, one of the state's largest bargaining groups, filed paperwork with the state to organize a union at Summit Academy school in Canton.

"This is heading into new territory," OAPSE spokesman Mark Hatch said.

OAPSE would argue for uniform contracts for employees and would push for better wages, benefits and work environments, he said.

The unionization attempt infuriated Summit Academy officials who fired Ron Milan, principal of the Canton school, this month because he joined the effort, Curt Brown, spokesman for Summit Academy, told the Akron Beacon Journal for a story Wednesday.

Milan was forbidden from helping a union organize because he was a manager, Brown said.

"We're still growing and trying to get our feet on the ground ... and this would be a distraction as we try to be the best school we can be," Brown said.

Akron-based Summit Academy, which runs eight charter schools in Ohio, has tried to keep its employees happy but realizes it is their legal right to unionize, Brown said.

"The reason for a union is the employer isn't providing the best employee services that it can," Brown said. "We are not a high-budget outfit. We spend our money on educating our kids. You can't get blood out of turnip. And we can't do much if some unreasonable financial demands are put on us."

Charter school operators have long opposed allowing their employees to unionize, offering perks, such as bonus pay, to keep them happy. The operators prefer to have employees work under individual contracts.

OAPSE spokesman Hatch said the Canton school has 20 full- and part-time employees, and a majority submitted signature cards to the union this month requesting representation. Milan signed one of the cards, Hatch said.

If school officials reject the OAPSE request, the union will call for a vote by the Canton school's employees. A majority vote would establish a union.

OAPSE is part of the Coalition for Public Education, which is suing Ohio charter schools, contending that they are operating under unfair regulations compared with traditional public schools.

Hatch said allowing employees to unionize would bring accountability to the schools.

The Ohio Department of Education has been investigating Summit Academy schools since late last year to determine whether they have misidentified students as having special education impairments -- labeling that brings in thousands of dollars in extra state aid.

Summit Academy officials have stood by their classification system.

Summit Academy runs schools for about 500 second through eighth graders needing special education classes. The schools are located in Canton, Lorain, Middletown, Parma, Xenia, Youngstown and two in Akron.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)