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In preparation for bargaining, the Union issued a contract survey this summer to gauge the topics of most importance to our members

(Photo: Joe Brusky)

The current Chicago Teachers Union contract with the Chicago Board of Education expires on June 30, 2019. Thanks to CTU advocacy, we will be bargaining at a time when CPS has more funding than it’s had in years. This gives us a new opportunity to codify policies that support teaching and learning.

In preparation for contract bargaining, the Union issued a contract survey this summer for each school’s delegate to discuss and complete with the members in their school. This analysis is based on the sample of members who completed and turned in the survey by mid-September 2018. We heard loudly and clearly that pay and benefits are important issues for our members, as they should be. Chicago is becoming a more expensive place to live. For example, from 2017 to 2018, housing prices increased by six percent and mortgage rates increased as well, according to a May 2018 article in the Chicago Tribune. CPS needs to pay teachers, clinicians and PSRPs salaries that enable them to afford the city’s high housing costs because developers and tech-billionaires, who are growing richer by the minute, benefit from the educated work force that Chicago’s public school teachers create. Instead of tax breaks, these businesses need to have tax obligations that require them to contribute to Chicago’s public institutions.

In 2012, CPS capped at 40 the number of sick days that could be banked and later used or paid out at retirement. This was a significant reduction from the 325 banked days previously allowed. As a consequence of CPS’ penny-pinching in this area, there was an unmet need for more substitute teachers. Teachers had little incentive to go to work in spite of not feeling well, and many used their sick days when they felt ill. The lack of substitutes caused chaotic situations in some schools. Principals pressured special education teachers, clinicians and PSRPs to cover classes, reducing the services these professionals normally provided to their own students. Sick-day banking at a higher level is an important benefit that members want to see restored.

Survey participants also highlighted job security, class size protections, improved staffing/conditions for special education and English Language Learner providers, and staffing of PSRPs and clinicians. CPS has cut staffing across the board for nurses, social workers, school counselors, psychologists, librarians and teacher aides, jeopardizing the health and well-being of the district’s overwhelmingly low-income students.

Staffing for psychologists and social workers is no better. Even though our members’ advocacy forced CPS to promise 160 additional social workers and 94 special education case managers, these positions have largely remained unfilled.

It is not surprising that, once again, survey results indicate that our members consider class size to be an important issue. Research is very clear on the benefits of smaller classes. Over the years, however, instead of reducing class size, CPS has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on experimental programs that turned out to be worthless. Our district has the highest class sizes across grades one through four of any school district in the entire Chicago metropolitan area. Furthermore, CPS does not even stick to its already-high class size limits. During the 2017-18 school year, 1,434 elementary school classrooms were over those limits. Also, 13 percent of high school classes were over high school class size limits.

Many survey participants highlighted the importance of funding for Sustainable Community Schools (SCS), improvements to school climate and advocacy for affordable housing and sanctuary. Because of a win in the current contract, there are 20 schools designated as SCS. Expanding the number of SCS will go a long way toward helping students flourish in an environment where their social-emotional needs are met. SCS practices, including restorative justice, overlap with improvements to school climate. So do smaller class sizes and adequate staffing.

Those who indicated in the survey that affordable housing and sanctuary are important issues to highlight in a contract campaign know that what happens in the community impacts what happens in schools. For example, as a result of public housing demolition and rising rental and home-buying costs, thousands of poor, mostly Black families moved out of Chicago. From 2011-2017, CPS lost more than 30,000 students, schools were closed and teachers and other school workers lost their jobs.

The CTU-CPS contract fight has begun. An opening step is the struggle of our CTU sisters and brothers who work for unionized charter schools. They are in negotiations now, and what they win will lay the basis for wins in the CTU-CPS contract. At the school level, it’s time to get Contract Action Teams (CATs) up and running. These teams play a vital role in communications within the school, in planning how to spread the word and get support from parents and community members, and in organizing necessary actions. The CATs can also help guarantee that potential contract demands are discussed in schools and submitted during October. On to a strong contract in 2019!

Carol Caref, Ph.D., is a CTU education policy analyst and Jennifer Johnson is the CTU chief of staff.

This article appears in the October 2018 issue of the Chicago Union Teacher.

Oct. 2018 print cover