Turmoil is hitting just before summer vacation at Community School of Excellence, a Hmong language and culture charter school in St. Paul. Teachers have been let go, the school’s gifted program will be eliminated and the English language learners program will be restructured.
The timing of the changes is putting the school’s future in jeopardy. Community School of Excellence needs a new authorizer after June 30 to continue functioning. Its potential new authorizer — Minnesota Guild of Public Charter Schools — isn’t happy with the changes, and is threatening to refuse to sign a contract with the school.
The guild, which authorizes charters with Minnesota Department of Education approval, says the changes the school made this week are more substantial than the initial agreement. As things stand, guild director Brad Blue said the guild can’t sign the contract. The lack of an authorizer would mean closure for the nearly 1,000-student school on July 1.
Blue said the guild was scheduled to sign a contract with the school on Wednesday, before learning of the changes there.
“We think we’re playing hockey, and we show up to the rink and everybody’s in a Speedo,” he said.
Bao Vang, the school’s chief executive, said the school intends to fulfill the agreement it made with the Minnesota Guild.
“Our job was well on board to really do a deep dive in assessing what’s not working,” she said.
Community School of Excellence is one of two charter schools in the state where teachers have organized unions, according to Education Minnesota President Denise Specht.
The board and teachers have clashing views of this week’s firings. Teachers allege that the move is an attempt at union-busting. Of the approximately 20 teachers let go, they said most were members of the teachers union. The unionized teaching staff is down to about 50 percent, they said.
Vang denied the union claim and said 10 people have lost their jobs, including eight teachers.
Teachers and parents packed an emotional school board meeting Wednesday.
Kindergarten teacher and union vice president Aaron Porzelius said he wasn’t asked to return next year because of his students’ low performance on a test. He said the test was not “developmentally appropriate.”
He said teachers are not included in decisions made about their students.
“We are the ones who are with them every day,” he said. “We are the ones who love and care for them.”
The school has had many employees bring cases to the National Labor Relations Board over the years, some of which are still open.
The school’s enrollment is 99 percent Asian and 77 percent English learners, according to Minnesota Department of Education data. It’s one of the larger charter schools in the state, according to Minnesota Association of Charter Schools executive director Eugene Piccolo.