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Teachers at Pa. Cyber Charter Vote to Unionize

By guest blogger Danielle Wilson

Cyber charter teachers from a school in Pennsylvania have voted to become the only unionized group of virtual instructors in the state. Teachers from the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, also known as PA Cyber, will join the Pennsylvania State Education Association to bargain for higher teacher wages, according to the Associated Press

In an interview, Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman Wythe Keever told Education Week that the teachers of PA Cyber were concerned about their compensation in comparison to bricks-and-mortar schools, and also worried about due process rights—the procedures a school must follow to dismiss a teacher with tenure. Teachers at the K-12 school do online instruction from where they reside, this includes instructors that live outside of the state.

Keever said a seven-month organizing drive was conducted after an initial meeting to gauge interest. A petition was filed and votes were collected by mail-in ballot from mid-March through early-April. The PSEA cannot begin bargaining on behalf of the teachers until the votes are certified by the National Labor Relations Board.  

The PSEA is the state's largest school employee union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, includes support staff and maintenance workers. Keever said the association also has members from universities and colleges, as well as members-at-large, who include student teachers and healthcare workers. The members-at-large make up a small portion of the membership and they do not get the collective bargaining services of other members.

Keever said PA Cyber is not the first cyber charter school the PSEA has successfully organized. The union also worked with the PA Learners Online Regional Cyber Charter School, a K-12 school in Homestead, Pa. that is no longer in existence. Keever said the association currently represents two charter schools, Pocono Mountain in Tobyhanna, Pa. and Young Scholars Charter School in Philadelphia. PA Cyber is the only virtual charter school they represent at this time.

PA Cyber made headlines recently when the school's founder and former CEO, Nicholas Trombetta, was indicted by a federal grand jury last year. Trombetta is still awaiting trial on charges that he funneled an estimated $8 million dollars from the school and conspired to avoid income taxes, reports the Associated Press.

Keever said he is not aware of any backlash from the vote. He said the association has had interest from other cyber charter schools to unionize but he could not confirm any names at this time. Keever said it is PSEA's goal to represent education professionals of traditional public schools, cyber, and charter schools.

"It's a very significant organizing victory for us and PA Cyber," Keever said of the vote "We want to offer [teachers]  the same support as we do our other members."

Keever said it does appear that PA Cyber administration will cooperate when negotiations begin from the statements they have released in response to the vote.

Michael Conti, PA Cyber's chief executive officer, told the AP. "We respect their decision and we're going to bargain in good faith."  

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