At 4:15 pm today, a broad coalition of community members, teachers, students, and parents will gather at the PA headquarters of ASPIRA – a national charter school operator. Teachers and parents will demand that the School District of Philadelphia deny ASPIRA’s attempts to takeover Munoz-Marin elementary school until ASPIRA allows its workers a fair path to forming a union and until ASPIRA proves itself to be financially accountable to Philadelphia taxpayers.
Teachers and staff have been organizing to form a union at ASPIRA’s network of four charter schools. Earlier this year teachers and staff at ASPIRA’s Olney Charter High School filed an unfair labor practice charge against the charter operator for imposing a social media gag order, a move organizers saw as an attempt to silence the organizing drive. The policy said it “is focused on social-media activities inside and outside of work that could affect your work performance, the performance of other employees, or the academic and business interests of the ASPIRA schools.” Last week, ASPIRA reached a settlement with teachers and staff, lifting the gag order and publicly recognizing the right to form a union.
In addition to the unfair labor practices charges, ASPIRA of PA’s bid to take over Munoz-Marin elementary school has brought increased scrutiny of the charter’s financial practices. In the course of organizing, teachers and staff discovered what they are calling “financial irregularities.” Writing for the City Paper, Daniel Denvir reported that while ASPIRA denounces financial misdeeds, they have remained silence about specific allegations:
Last August, City Paper reported that a recent audit had found that as of June 2012 Aspira Inc. of Pennsylvania ran a deficit of $722,949 and owed its publicly financed charter schools $3.3 million. That’s in addition to the $6.3 million in administrative fees that the charters paid to Aspira in 2012, and $1.5 million in lease payments to Aspira and Aspira-controlled property-management entities ACE and ACE/Dougherty.
Public-education advocates and teachers seeking to an organize a union at Olney Charter High School, backed by the American Federation of Teachers, have also been critics of Aspira’s financial practices.
Yesterday’s press release stated that “ASPIRA and ASPIRA Schools have had eight auditing bodies conduct 20 audits that did not or have not reported financial mismanagement.” But Aspira has not responded to any of the particular financial anomalies uncovered by City Paper. And Aspira CEO Alfredo Calderon and COO Orlando Rendon have not yet responded to an interview request. Last August, Rendon had pledged to answer City Paper’s questions but later declined to do so.
Organizers of today’s rally also say that the charter has spent tens of thousands of dollars on anti-union lawyers. At today’s rally, teachers, staff and parents are expected to make the case that until ASPIRA demonstrates that it will not interfere with union organizing efforts and until it comes clean on all of their financial practices, ASPIRA should not be allowed to take over yet another public school. And it seems that the pressure is beginning to be felt. According to organizers,
On Monday, two days before the scheduled parent vote on the ASPIRA takeover of Munoz-Marin Elementary, ASPIRA and SDP leaders announced they had postponed the vote [to hand the school over to ASPIRA]. Many parents have postulated that the decision was made because ASPIRA and public officials feared the charter would lose the vote. Last week ASPIRA also settled its fourth Unfair Labor Practices complaint with its employees.
Despite the rain, organizers of today’s event plan on moving forward with carnivalesque street theater designed to remind ASPIRA owners and managers of their own mission statements. Here’s how organizers described today’s event in a press release:
On Wednesday April 30th, the day before a scheduled parents vote, teachers from ASPIRA’s current schools will gather for a theatrical action outside of ASPIRA’s North Philly headquarters. Teachers will call attention to the hypocrisy in ASPIRA’s attempts to silence teachers during their drive to unionize in contrast with the organizations stated values. Speakers from the PCAPS coalition and parents and staff of Munoz-Marin elementary will all voice concern about ASPIRA’s financial entanglements and labor relations, and recent undemocratic behavior towards parents regarding expansion plans.
During the street theatre, teachers will reenact the inspiring life of ASPIRA’s founder Dr. Antonia Pantoja. Pantoja was a union organizer and a dedicated community activist who fought tirelessly for the workers’ rights and the self-determination of immigrant communities. Teaches have observed that as ASPIRA of PA continues to expand, the charter operator has strayed from its initial vision of empowerment.
The organizers of today’s event include the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) , ASPIRA teachers and staff, ASPIRA parents, Munoz-Marin elementary school parents, teachers & staff, Alliance of Charter School Employees Local 6056, Fight for Philly, Action United, CLUW (Coalition Labor Union Women), Jobs with Justice, Action United, AFL-CIO), ASPIRA teachers and staff, ASPIRA parents, Munoz-Marin parents, teachers & staff, Alliance of Charter School Employees Local 6056, Fight for Philly, Action United, CLUW (Coalition Labor Union Women), Jobs with Justice, Action United, and the PA AFL-CIO.