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Latinos demonstrate outside Detroit charter school, critical of The Leona Group

By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa

Dec. 20, 2012: Latino and labor groups demonstrated outside César Chávez Academy in Detroit last Thursday, hoping to call attention to the private operator’s profit motive they claim is hurting the education of inner-city students.
 


David Hecker

—Photos courtesy of José Cuello

Parents and teachers also are calling on the management company that operates and/or owns the Chávez charter schools to recognize efforts to unionize staff at the school. Educators want The Leona Group to recognize their efforts to collectively bargaining after working with the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan to organize.

“We’re here to send a message that we want what’s best for Detroit’s kids,” said Flordemaria Garay, a social worker with the César Chávez Academy (CCA) for a decade. “We’re in this together. I’ve been a social worker for nearly two decades, and realize the impact we have by giving a voice to educators and parents. We are forming a union so we have a voice in making sure we have a school culture that will support our students.”

A parent group also wants the company to meet monthly to discuss issues at the school. César Chávez Academy is known as one of the oldest and largest charter schools in the state of Michigan, enrolling about 2,200 students this fall at grammar and high schools located across the city.

“By standing by the teachers, we are standing by our kids,” said Karina López, who has a third grader at CCA. “I’m disappointed that as a parent my voice falls on deaf ears. It’s time to change that. I want a role and a voice in shaping my son’s education.

Demonstrators contend The Leona Group makes close to $1.5 million per year from the equivalent of a Detroit Public Schools per-student budget. Latino and labor leaders claim the for-profit charter school operator has refused to spend part of its profits to improve education and the education environment, and in the process, has rejected the voices of the teachers, staff and parents who have expressed ideas for improving the school.
 

The parental grievances include inadequate playground and lunchroom facilities, bathrooms that are not cleaned, inadequate school materials, lack of an adequate PTA, and threats to parents who complain.

José Cuello, an associate professor of history at nearby Wayne State University, helped to organize the demonstration. Cuello also serves as a spokesman for the Michigan Coalition of Human Rights, which believes that a people’s campaign is necessary to fight the growing privatization of public schools. 
 


Cindy Estrada

“A good education is a human right. The Detroit Public Schools need to be reformed, but not my having for-profit companies syphon even more money out of the budgets to educate our children,” he said. “The only thing the charter school companies are doing efficiently is taking huge chunks of taxpayers’ money.”

More than 200 people gathered on the sidewalk outside the school holding signs that read “Todos Unidos Si Se Puede!” (Everyone United Yes We Can).

The teachers and staff have organized a union called the César Chávez Academy Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (CCA-ACTS), which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers/AFL-CIO. Just hours before Thursday’s demonstration, the teachers officially filed for a union election.

But labor leaders contend the charter school has hired what it labels “professional intimidators” to bully teachers and staff in an attempt to thwart unionizing and get them to back down. According to an AFT organizer, Juan José Martínez, director of the CCA High School, has placed reprimands in the file of teachers and staff who are known to favor a union.

Employees wish to unionize over the objections of The Leona Group

Employees at César Chávez Academy have been working to organize since 2006. According to AFT officials, their initial attempts were tied up in legal delays by The Leona Group, LLC. Parents say they support educators’ efforts to join a union and hope the management company won’t attempt to block the process. The parents have also organized a group, “Mujeres Mejorando Educación,” (Women Improving Education) and also are requesting recognition from charter school administrators.

Parents also claim they’ve lodged many complaints about the inadequate physical facilities and resources at the multi-campus charter school, but were “disrespected” by school administrators about improving conditions there.

Parents are seeking to hold both the Leona Group and school superintendent Javier Garibay accountable for the quality of their children’s education and learning environment. Parents contend Garibay has used the threat of Homeland Security to frighten parents who are undocumented immigrants.

Thursday’s demonstration follows a protest in October outside the school, where local officials detained an undocumented immigrant while dropping his son off for class. That protest drew about 125 people. The charter school is located in a section of southwest Detroit that is home to a large Mexican-American population, including recent immigrants.

The Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Michigan ACTS) helped to organize the after-school demonstration, but claimed the charter school operator tried to let classes out early in order to lower the number of potential protestors. Demonstrators were joined by Cindy Estrada, a UAW vice president; Rev. David Bullock, Rainbow PUSH Detroit, and AFT Michigan President David Hecker.

Ms. Estrada called it “an oxymoron” that a school named after César Chávez was not unionized.  Hecker added that a strong union “is essential” to ensure quality teachers that will provide a quality education.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed so-called “right-to-work” legislation, stating the new law is about giving workers statewide a choice in whether or not to join a union. CCA teachers now are calling on him to back up his statement by supporting their efforts to choose to unionize.

“If  this is about choice for employees, then let us choose for Detroit’s kids,” said Toni Carlbom, a special education teacher at the Martin Campus. “I believe families in Southwest Detroit deserve every effort to effectively serve their children. We teachers want to ensure César Chávez Academy works better. Parents and teachers are united, and want to work constructively with the administration to give all students a quality education.”

Editor’s Note: The Leona Group operates and/or owns more than 60 schools, located in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Arizona, and Florida. On the Internet: www.leonagroup.com
Photos courtesy of
José Cuello.

 


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Todos Unidos
 
   

 

Copyright © 1989 to 2012 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 12/25/12 19:56:11 -0800.

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