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Our union’s contract proposal is built on the demand for the schools our students deserve

CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates speaks to reporters at a City Hall press conference on Jan. 15, 2019, announcing Union contract demands.

The Chicago Teachers Union threw down the gauntlet on January 15, demanding that Mayor Rahm Emanuel begin investing in schools, especially those on the South and West Sides that have suffered years of disinvestment and deep budget cuts. Emanuel has slashed school budgets during his tenure, even as he offered more than $2 billion to Amazon and proposed funneling $1 billion into the swanky Lincoln Yards development,

The CTU joined parent and community allies to hand off a contract proposal to the mayor and to Chicago Public Schools, arguing that if the city can find extra cash for the richest man on the planet, it can find money to adequately fund schools and fairly compensate the educators and staff who work their hearts out for Chicago students.

Among the list of contract demands: a 5 percent raise for teachers and paraprofessionals; enforceable class size limits of between 20 and 24 students in elementary school; a nurse and counselor for every 250 students; a librarian in every school; real sanctuary protections for student and families; and restorative justice programs across the district.

Because teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions, the CTU’s contract proposal is designed to address critical issues teachers experience every day in staffing, class size and school conditions, as well as the issues students and their families face in neglected communities on the South and West sides of the city.

“Our educators have been furloughed, fee-hiked and forced to work with staff shortages in every area,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said at a news conference in front of the mayor’s City Hall office. “We have routinely joined with public advocates to demand stronger economic support and truly fair funding for our schools, and while we have a long way to go, that effort has eased CPS’ budget woes in recent years. Yet CPS continues to short-change the people who make our schools work, from school clerks to teaching assistants.”

The CTU wants an end to excuses for the district’s continued neglect of teacher, clinician and PSRP pay and benefits, and an end to the dangerous and destructive shortages of school nurses, special education teachers, librarians, bilingual education teachers and a host of other education professionals whose services our students desperately need.

While Emanuel has called contracts sacrosanct when arguing against re-examining either the despised parking meter deal or toxic swap deals with big banks that have fomented fiscal crisis in CPS, all bets are off when it comes to public service worker contracts. Emanuel unilaterally cancelled contractually agreed-upon raises for teachers and paraprofessionals when he took office, and on January 1 his handpicked CPS officials unilaterally raised health costs—a move that will cost teachers hundreds of dollars at a minimum.

In 1995, Chicago’s mayor lobbied for and won total control over CPS, making Chicago the only school district in the state that does not elect its school board. That state law also gave the district the upper hand in contract negotiations over class size and other non-monetary bargaining subjects.
That law does not extend to charter operators in the city, though, and with solid, enforceable class size language emerging in the CTU’s charter school contracts—along with contractual language on issues like sanctuary schools—the union is stepping up its fight for this key demand in district-run schools, as well.

“We have 40-plus kindergarten students in some classes, barely one school nurse for every five schools, a mass push-out of veteran Black women educators, chronic shortages of special education and ESL teachers, and schools that have been monstrously neglected for years,” Sharkey said. “Rahm Emanuel and his predecessor would never tolerate those kinds of learning conditions for their children, and our public school children deserve no less than his children.”

The CTU’s contract demands are structured to address the attack on veteran Black teachers—who are overwhelmingly female—within a larger package of demands that seek to undo school policy that has created enormous inequity for low-income students of color, whose families are also under intense pressure from gentrification, racist policing policies and multi-generational disinvestment in Black and Latinx neighborhoods. The contract demands also support a culturally sustaining curriculum that respects our students and their families.

The contract proposal also calls for an expansion of Sustainable Community Schools, a program Emanuel agreed to in the 2015 contract but only began implementing this school year. The CTU wants to expand the program, which pairs schools with community partners to provide the kind of wrap-around supports that students in high-risk communities need to succeed, to 75 schools. The CTU also supports these students with demands for services for homeless students and for affordable housing.

The next contract also needs to address deficient sanctuary policies and implement a sweeping restorative justice program across the district. The CTU just won a sanctuary schools commitment in its new contract with Acero after a groundbreaking strike and that fight will help lift up the issue in district talks.

These needs are real for students, who confront fear of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on their families, disparate call rates to police for Black students and a racist gang database that unfairly labels students without due process or recourse. The CTU is demanding schools that protect communities and serve as save spaces where students can learn safely without bias or stigmatization.

CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said the union is braced for a barrage of excuses from the district about the cost of the union’s proposals.

“Let’s be honest, these proposals are going to cost money,” Davis Gates said. “We need to be upfront about that and own that. But we’re tired of excuses. Our schools have been cut to the bone by Rahm Emanuel. If the city can find money for Jeff Bezos, the richest man on the planet, it can find money to give our students the schools they deserve and give our educators the compensation they deserve.”

Contract bargaining began in January. That puts the union squarely on schedule to start the 2019-20 school year with either a fair contract in place or a strike for the schools Chicago’s students deserve.

Christine Geovanis is the CTU Communications Director.

This article appears in the January 2019 issue of the Chicago Union Teacher.