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Cambridge Lakes Charter School teachers wants union
By Jameel Naqvi | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/24/2008 12:26 AM

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Teachers and staff at the Cambridge Lakes Charter School are trying to unionize, a union official said Saturday.

"The employees approached us about unionizing," said Diane Petersen, UniServ director for Region 25. "This clearly is a grass-roots effort."

Petersen confirmed charter school employees have had discussions with UniServ, which represents teachers and staff in Community Unit District 300, for the past six to eight weeks. The employees, she said, want a greater voice in their contract negotiations and in what happens in the classroom.

"Some of the things that have occurred they don't feel have been done fairly," Petersen said. "It's your typical reason why employees want to unionize."

Teachers at Cambridge Lakes have been circulating petitions among the roughly 50 employees at the school and are reportedly close to getting the percentage of signatures they need to hold elections for union leadership.

In the wake of this effort, the charter school has delayed the start of classes Monday from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and canceled morning kindergarten classes. A notice on District 300's Web site says the delay is due to an issue with the facilities and offers no further details. But Petersen said the school has scheduled a staff-wide meeting Monday morning.

"Apparently there must not be (a problem with the facilities) if they're calling an all-staff meeting," she said.

If the Cambridge Lakes employees are successful in organizing they would have a separate unit from the teachers and staff in District 300, Petersen said. She added that teachers are scared they will lose their job for trying to form a union.

"They feel that if they find out about who's organizing, they won't be given a contract next year," Petersen said.

Charter school administrators could not be reached for comment Saturday evening.

"I don't have any information at this point," Cambridge Lakes spokeswoman Heather Schaeffer said.

The Pingree Grove School, located in the Cambridge Lake subdivision receives funding from District 300 but operates with a great degree of autonomy over curriculum and teaching methods.

Josh Emmett, the first principal of the school when it opened in the fall, left his post less than two months after the school's 2007 September opening. The school did not publicly confirm Emmett's departure until more than one month later.

While school officials said Emmett left for personal reasons, a press release from the charter school and statements made by District 300 Superintendent Ken Arndt suggested Emmett was asked to leave.

Emmett was replaced by Karen Behrns, who was a former operations director for the school and a former principal of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Hampshire.

About than 500 students, most of whom live in the Cambridge Lakes subdivision, attend the charter school. The school is run by the Northern Kane Educational Corp.

Charter school teachers are not the only employees in District 300 who are looking to unionize. The district's bus drivers, employed by Durham School Services, and the district's food services workers, employed by Aramark are also in on-going efforts to form their own unions.