Union bargaining team is fighting for staffing commitments in critical areas that impact students’ readiness and ability to learn.
CHICAGO, May 16, 2019—In 2012, Chicago Public Schools staffing of nurses, social workers, psychologists and counselors was significantly out of line with recommendations from professional organizations. The situation has worsened under mayoral control of the district in the years since, but because the Chicago Teachers Union has organized around this issue, CPS opened 160 social work and 94 special education case manager positions for the 2018-19 school year.
These positions, however, have largely remained unfilled. At the start of the year, there were only 38 more social workers than last year.
Since 2012, staffing cuts across the board to nurses, social workers, school counselors, psychologists, librarians and teacher aides have jeopardized the health and well-being of the district’s overwhelmingly low-income students. The CTU has subsequently made adequate staffing of these positions a key component of negotiations with the district this year, since CPS stubbornly insists on ignoring both the recommendations of major professional organizations and clear evidence from school workers and parents that CPS staffing policies are inadequate.
“The rising number of vacant positions for services that are vital to our students’ well-being has increased the pressure on staff who are already stretched thin,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “We will not tolerate the continued elimination of key positions in our schools, and will fight for staffing commitments in all of these areas—areas that impact our students’ readiness and ability to learn.”
The Chicago Teachers Union bargaining team is demanding one librarian for every school; 1,000 additional teacher assistants in elementary school and high schools; staffing for social workers, nurses, counselors, case managers, psychologists and OT/PT workers that meet recommended ratios; at least one restorative justice coordinator in every school; and filling more than 300 special education vacancies, along with the creation of 340 new positions.
PSRPs—overwhelmingly Black and Latinx women who are the economic anchors of their families—are clerks in the office, teacher’s aides of all varieties, library assistants, and other adults in schools who provide vital services to students. From 2012 to 2018, 754 PSRPs lost their jobs, a reduction of 20 percent. More than a quarter of all teacher assistants were laid off or reclassified between 2012 and 2017. School clerk positions were cut by 22 percent between 2012 and 2017.
Nurses are assigned to students receiving special education services, which is required by law, and are seldom able to attend to other students’ health needs. In 2017-18, CPS employed only 108 CSNs, down from the already low 201 CSNs employed in 2012. One school nurse for every 2,859 students is a far cry from the ratio of one nurse for 750 students recommended by the National Association of School Nurses.
Psychologists and Social Workers
Like nurses, individual social workers and psychologists are typically assigned to serve special education students only. When CPS cuts vital services like school social workers, school psychologists and school nurses, students, parents and teachers all suffer.
The National Association of School Psychologists recommends one school psychologist for, at most, 700 students. In CPS, the ratio in 2017-18 was one psychologist per 1,760 students, and one social worker per 1,238 students— close to five times what is recommended by the National Association of Social Workers. Further, from 2012 to 2018, the number of school social workers declined by 12 percent.
The Learn. Plan. Succeed. graduation requirement puts further pressure on understaffed high school counselors and college/career coaches, yet schools lost over 152 counselors from 2011 to 2018. CPS changed its budgeting formula, thus decreasing the number of school counselors available at many large elementary and high schools. The American School Counselors Association recommends one counselor for every 250 students. In 2017-18, each school counselor was responsible for 444 students.
In 2012, there were about 160 schools without librarians. The number of librarians has steadily decreased in the years since, and by 2019, there were only 128 CPS librarians. Most schools on the South and West sides have no librarians at all, as the majority of schools with librarians are concentrated on the North Side.
Note: Staffing numbers reported in the section above are calculated from CPS Position Files.