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Teachers at Menlo Park Academy in Cleveland seek to unionize

Teachers in black at Menlo Park Academy in Cleveland
Dan Pernod
Teachers at Menlo Park Academy on Cleveland's West Side

Teachers at Menlo Park Academy public charter school are trying to unionize, and they're currently waiting on a decision from the National Labor Relations Board.

At issue is who has jurisdiction over the union vote.

After the teachers filed a petition to unionize with the NLRB in November, attorneys for the school filed a jurisdictional challenge. They argued the election process should be overseen by the State Employment Relations Board, not the NLRB.

The teachers say it's a false argument.

“It's been 20 years in Ohio that charter schools have unionized using the NLRB. That’s well-settled precedent for 20 years,” teacher Deb Vandrasik said to Ideastream Public Media. "For some reason, our school’s board decided to challenge that long-standing precedent and say, ‘No, it should be under the state board instead.’"

Sean Wheeler, who teaches sixth to eighth grades, says 96% of the teachers filed unionization cards. That overwhelming support for a union, he says, is because of low pay, work hours that extend into weekends, and a school board that maintains decision-making control.

“It feels like teachers have no control over curricular decisions, things that happen in the classroom. The administrators and people are leaving because everything seems to be micro-managed,” Wheeler said. “The decisions aren't made with the educators as the professionals.”

School leadership did not reply to Ideastream’s request for an interview, but in an open letter posted on the school's website about the unionization effort, Menlo Academy says, “Teacher and staff feedback has always had a direct influence on all decisions that the school makes.”

Social studies teacher Dan Pernod says teacher morale is low, and he points to a high turnover rate at the school.

“I'm in my seventh year at this school and I have my sixth administrator. The turnover is just unsustainable. We just need a constant framework from year to year and a union would provide that and protection for the employee from these administrators we bring in from year to year,” Pernod said.

On the school's website, Menlo Park Academy says its teacher retention rate is at 85% over a 4-year period.

In its online message to the community, the Menlo Park Academy board of directors wrote, “It is our honest belief that unionization will not get teachers more than what MPA is already willing and able to provide.

“Additionally, we are a non-profit public charter school, with limited funding. Menlo Park Academy would much rather spend money on things that directly benefit our students. We believe that if the union gets in, it will redirect resources from our students and our school.”