From classroom trends to school board decisions, Class Act will keep you updated on all the school issues followed by the Star Tribune’s education reporters. Contributors include Steve Brandt, who covers Minneapolis; Kim McGuire, who covers the west metro; Erin Adler, who covers the south metro; Anthony Lonetree and Libor Jany, who cover St. Paul and the east metro, and Paul Levy and Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

Union vote set at St. Paul charter school

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: June 9, 2014 - 8:47 PM

The Community School of Excellence, hit last year by allegations it misused funds and engaged in retaliatory employment practices, could soon become the second unionized charter school in the state.

Teachers and other employees are scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to form a union at the school, a magnet for St. Paul's Hmong families -- with 958 students enrolled last week.

In February, staff members contacted Education Minnesota, the state's teachers union, about organizing a union. The move came after the state Department of Education called for an investigation into allegations against the school and its superintendent, Mo Chang, and about a month before two teachers filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming that white employees had been subjected to retaliation and discrimination, among other concerns.

The school has denied the teachers' allegations.

Of the move to organize, Education Minnesota president Denise Specht said in a statement Monday: "The educators at the Community School of Excellence want respect and a stronger voice in their school so they can improve the quality of education for their students. Those are important goals and Education Minnesota is ready to help those educators achieve them."

Chang could not be reached to comment.

In a statement Monday night, school board Chairwoman Patti Hessling said that the school did not believe a union would add to its success or provide an answer to its challenges.

"But the school respects the protected rights of its employees to make a free choice about union representation as well as to engage in other ways of working together for their mutual benefit without a union present," she added. "We believe that we can achieve best results for our students and our staff by working together directly."

Last summer, the state Department of Education asked the school's authorizer, Concordia University, St. Paul, to investigate reports of misused federal food funds and other allegations.

The independent investigation substantiated claims that Chang improperly directed staff members to enter or have students enter lunch codes for meals that were not eaten and encouraged staff to not report suspected cases of child abuse.

While some complaints were unsupported, the report concluded that Chang had threatened staffers and created an environment where workers were afraid to disagree with her.

But the school board succeeded in fending off Concordia's request to dismiss Chang.

The unionization vote is a "wall-to-wall" vote, meaning all employees, from teachers to cooks to education assistants, would be part of the same bargaining unit, Education Minnesota said.

The school has about 120 staff members.

Earlier this year, 25 teachers at Twin Cities German Immersion School, which also is in St. Paul, gave 80 percent support to forming a union, making it the state's sole unionized charter school.

Minnesota's first charter school, City Academy in St. Paul, was union-represented initially, but no longer is due to a reorganization.

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