Pines City Manager Charlie Dodge sprung the deal at the last minute. From CBSMiami:
The question of whether to privatize the city run charter schools followed contract disputes between the Broward Teachers Union and city leaders who said the city doesn’t have enough money to run the highly-successful Pines Charter schools unless there are major salary cuts for the city’s 375 teachers.
Pines leaders have been warning that the city’s seven-school charter system for months that it was struggling financially. In recent weeks, the city asked its teachers, who are represented by BTU, to accept a pay cut that would cause them to be paid less than teachers who work for the much-larger Broward School District
As a result, Pembroke Pines city officials responded with the surprise plan to privatize by partnering with Charter Schools, USA, a Fort Lauderdale-based firm that is one of the nation’s largest for-profit charter school companies
The move to privatize was spearheaded by Pines City Manager Charlie Dodge, who also oversees the city’s charter schools. He sent a mass email Monday that sought to reassure parents. Dodge wrote that the schools were struggling to close a $2.1 million deficit, and he blasted the teachers union for insisting on more teacher raises as opposed to trying to find a workable budget solution.
Dodge’s email downplayed the massive staff turnover that’s expected if Charter Schools, USA is brought in. The city manager noted that the same school principals and vice-principals will remain, and “teachers will have the opportunity to be re-employed by this new organization.”
In the end a deal was reached and Charter Schools USA was left holding the bag. But it’s clear that Dodge leveraged BTU into a deal by holding Charter Schools USA over their heads. It must have been quite a 24 hours for Dodge as he was facing considerable opposition to his plan. This from Sun Sentinel reporter Heather Carney:
PEMBROKE PINES — Parts of the city’s nationally recognized charter school system may be privatized as early as this week and more than 300 teachers could lose their jobs.
Students, parents, and teachers fear that this change will lower the quality of education at the schools. But city officials say Pines doesn’t have enough money to keep the A-rated schools open and that privatizing parts of them is the only solution
The city plans to contract with Charter Schools USA for $10 million a year to operate and manage most aspects of the charter system. The schools, which include 5,600 students and employ 323 teachers, are funded through state tax dollars and are not private schools.
“This means Thursday I will be unemployed,” said Pines charter high school teacher Kim Hughes. “Most teachers can’t believe this is happening. We never thought we’d be treated like this.”
The city says the partnership will resolve the school system’s long-term financial troubles, including a $2.1 million budget shortfall for the upcoming school year and a yearlong disagreement over teacher salaries.
If the city approves the partnership at a special meeting at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, the contract says the teachers would lose their jobs and would have the option of re-applying and being rehired by Charter Schools USA.
Two student editors of the high school’s newspaper wrote a letter opposing the partnership, saying losing teachers will hurt the students. They said the changes will break up the family-like feeling at Pembroke Pines Charter High School.
“The education of the students is no longer of importance, money has now become the main priority and everyone is suffering because of it,” said incoming seniors Victoria Alvarez and Melissa Sullivan.
Carney points out that Charter Schools USA has “contributed $215,950 to the Florida Republican Party and to groups that support choice in education, including the Florida Federation for Children.” Charter Schools USA willingness to sneak in and pick off a handful of schools in Broward county should emerge as a cautionary tale for Floridians. They are now politically positioned with increased access and the ability to cut last-minute, backroom deals like they did last week in Pembroke Pines.