Association of American Educators writes to the fellow teachers and board of directors of the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School

There is another, better path, for Cape Cod teachers than a union

An Open Letter to the
Board of the Cape Cod
Lighthouse Charter School

Today your Board will move forward with the selection of a new director of the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School. As you meet, your school is at a crossroads.    
     In order to survive the dual crises of an intrusion by a teachers' union affiliated with the AFL-CIO and a declining academic progress, CCLCS needs a strong, dynamic leader who enjoys the full support of the Board. This is not a time to appoint a "yes person" no matter how well meaning.
     Your school needs a director with years of experience in managing capital projects, righting academic underperformance and negotiating with labor unions
     This leader is not Paul Niles. Mr. Niles is a splendid person, a gifted teacher but does not bring to the table the unique experience needed to get the school through the next two or three years.

Two better, Cape Cod alternatives
Michael Gradone or Maryanne Lanzo

     Cape Cod is fortunate to have living here many retired school administrators with the training and experience to bring CCLCS back on track academically, to guide the move to your new campus in Harwich and to address the labor concerns that now threaten financing for your new school building.
     Two names come to mind right away. The first is retired Nauset Superintendent of Schools Michael Gradone. Mr. Gradone devoted his entire career to the children of the Lower Cape. His reputation as a peacemaker, careful steward of funds and academic visionary give him all the right attributes to guide the school through the current challenges.
     The second excellent choice is retiring Chatham superintendent Dr. Maryanne Lanzo. Dr. Lanzo has a similar skill set to Mike Gradone and also managed to maintain the Chatham schools as an attractive school choice destination for an entire decade. She understands "customer service" in a way that many public school administrators do not
     An advantage of hiring a retired administrator to lead the school is that you can make a short term commitment of two or three years and engage this person to mentor Mr. Niles through these next few years and prepare him to assume the directorship in the future.
     Please use our local talent pool to save the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School.
In the charming community of Cape Cod, the country's second largest labor union has descended on the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School, making Lighthouse only the second independently run charter school in Massachusetts to take the misstep toward union representation.
    - Cape Cod TODAY.

By Gary Beckner, Executive Director of the Association of American Educators

While uncommon, unionization of charter schools is a very real threat to the innovative, flexible environment charters were intended to cultivate. Charters were designed to operate under an environment where schools have the ability to implement changes based upon the best interest of the student, not the needs of adults. Free from the bureaucratic hurdles and red tape, charters were meant to be the exception to union-entrenched schools, not the rule.

Sadly, with the union's lengthy contracts, contributions to partisan politics, and their ability to create an adversary relationship between faculty and staff, there seems to be no faster way of stifling the progressive environments of charters than to unionize.

An alternative equal & better than unions

Since the news broke, teachers have been stepping forward with stories regarding troubles within the school as administrators come and go and the school goes through necessary growing pains. It is perfectly understandable for a professional educator to worry about job security under new leadership. Teachers don't call in the union because they are happy. However, before falling under union control, educators should explore options that don't include spending upwards of $1,000 a year on an outdated, overreaching model of representation.

What teachers should know is that they have a non-union option in the Association of American Educators, the country's premiere national alternative. AAE supports teachers, both in charters and traditional public schools in all fifty states, providing professional benefits like liability insurance and legal counsel at a fraction of the cost. The non-union option provides a modern approach to teachers without the stifling contracts, or partisan politics associated with a union.

Collaboration rather than conflict

AAE promotes a philosophy of collaboration between staff and administration rather than the ineffective adversarial model of the past. We support freedom, flexibility, and professionalism in the classroom, a truly unique approach that allows teachers the professional benefits they need but without the stigmas attached to blue collar labor unions.

Our model aligns perfectly with the charter school ethos, allowing teachers the freedom to negotiate their own employment and take part in the collaborative and enriching environment of their school. AAE recognizes that teachers need options, and each teacher should have the right to make the decision based on what aligns with their own beliefs and budget.

With the community abuzz over the story, teachers at Lighthouse have stepped forward with claims that they do not support unionization. One teacher even commented that a full faculty vote was never secured and many teachers had reservations about the union model. Does this seem like a fair step to you?

Unfortunately, we are seeing this happen in more places than Cape Cod. Teachers and administrators need to be mindful that the union will come knocking, especially in times of transition, and inevitably undo the innovative culture of their beloved charter school.

Union representation eliminates the environment that gives charter schools an edge. Don't let it happen in your school. Teachers everywhere deserve to know the facts.

Gary Beckner, Executive Director
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