James M. Singleton Charter School has landed a $5,000 grant from a national trade union center, principal Debra Robertson announced Tuesday, sparking board debate about whether it was appropriate.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the nation’s largest federation of unions, awarded the grant for curriculum purchases.

It was presented in connection with a presentation by Larry Carter of United Teachers of New Orleans, the labor union representing teachers and education workers at some schools. Carter addressed students on the history of unions and their service to communities, Robertson said.

Board chairman Kenneth Johnson objected that he had not approved the grant ahead of time — and that by accepting the money the school might be seen as having an “affiliation” with the teacher union.

“My concern is this: Is there anybody on this board who is not in favor of having an affiliation with unions?” Johnson asked. “I don’t think the principal of this school has the right to make that decision without us.”

Board members engaged in a short debate about the board’s proper role in school oversight and financial management.

Board member Mary Joseph said that while she didn’t object to unions giving to the school, she agreed with Johnson that the board needs to approve or reject grants the school is soliciting.

“When we seek funds, the board must decide to accept those funds, and provide oversight for those funds — including ensuring the school adheres to whatever those agreements are in that grant,” Joseph said. She told Robertson that she would feel more comfortable if the principal informed the board about grant applications.

Board member Sharon Sheridan disagreed: “I don’t think we can micromanage the principal. I don’t think that the board has to say what she can apply for and what she can’t apply for.”

Board member James M. Singleton added that the union organization wasn’t trying to recruit any members, so that the issue shouldn’t be contentious.

“If they’re willing to put up $5,000 and all they’re doing is coming and speaking to the kids about the AFL-CIO … they’re not asking to join or anything,” Singleton said. “And they’re not asking to recruit the teachers or anything.”

Ultimately, the board voted to accept the principal’s report and agree to discuss grants in the future.

In other news, Robertson announced that a second phase of the OneApp process showed 89 students had applied to go to other schools. Of those 89, 41 were 8th graders, Robertson added.

A financial report showed the charter organization ended the month with $200,000 in excess revenue.

Della Hasselle

Della Hasselle, a freelance journalist and producer, reports environmental and criminal justice stories for The Lens. A graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative...