Staff cuts at embattled St. Paul charter school target union leaders

Community School of Excellence is a charter school focused on Hmong language and culture in St. Paul's North End.

Community School of Excellence is a charter school focused on Hmong language and culture in St. Paul’s North End.

A St. Paul charter school’s campaign to deny employees a voice on the job reached a new low yesterday, when administrators announced a wave of staff cuts eliminating several key areas of classroom programming and decimating the union’s bargaining team.

The number of teachers and support staff let go remains in flux, union leaders said this morning, but at least 22 teachers and all 30 aides at the Community School of Excellence have been told they will not return next school year. Among them are four members of the union’s five-person negotiating team.

“We had finally been making some progress at the negotiating table, with a number of (issues) tentatively agreed upon,” said Blythe Inners, president of the bargaining unit, whose job teaching English language learners was among the cuts. “But this move by the administration certainly appears aimed at slowing that down.”

Inners said teachers and staff members are holding out hope that administrators will reverse the cuts and do what’s necessary to save the school they helped to establish. Staff and supporters plan a show of solidarity at tonight’s school board meeting, scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. at 170 Rose Ave. W. 

“The educators of CSE have been working for years to build a school that serves the special needs of its community,” Inners said. “More than three quarters of our students are English language learners and we’re proud of their progress. We’re willing to keep fighting to provide the education our students need to thrive.”

CSE, located in the North End, delivers a curriculum focused on Hmong language and culture. About 100 teachers and other staff members voted two years ago to join the Federation of Charter School Employees, an affiliate of Education Minnesota.

Since then, school administrators have dragged out negotiations of a first contract and refused to respect employees’ decision to unionize.

The school drew a stiff rebuke from the National Labor Relations Board last year for retaliating against union supporters with disciplinary actions, and in January the NLRB’s regional director dismissed an attempt by CSE to decertify the union, citing a “tainted” atmosphere.

The current wave of layoffs, Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said, is an indication that CSE hasn’t changed its ways.

“We’re shocked a school would decimate its curriculum to punish its employees for exercising their right to bargain collectively,” Specht said. “It’s appalling that a school for an immigrant community would deny its students access to dedicated teachers of English language learners, gifted and talented programs, educational support staff and media specialists.”

CSE’s troubles prompted its original authorizing organization, Concordia University, to drop the school. All Minnesota charter schools must have the backing of a legal authorizer, and if CSE does not find a new one by July 1, it will be forced to close.

Ironically, CSE’s best hope for opening at all next year may be with the Minnesota Guild, a charter-authorizing organization sponsored by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. The Guild’s governing board includes current and former local union presidents, who are unlikely to look kindly on layoffs targeting union activists.

“We urge the administrators of the Community School of Excellence to reconsider these foolish and vindictive staff cuts and save their school,” Specht said. “The more than 86,000 members of Education Minnesota are standing behind the educators of CSE today. We will help them save their school, which they helped build with dedication and caring. But if the school cannot be saved from the destructive decisions of its current leaders, we will be there to assist our colleagues in the next stages of their careers.”


  1. […] this month, teachers at Community School of Excellence in St. Paul pushed back against administrators’ plan to cut classroom programming and lay off personnel, including most members of the fledgling staff union’s bargaining […]

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