ChiArts’ founder José Ochoa, management and foundation stand in the way of an equitable agreement to provide safe, supportive and well-resourced classrooms.

CHICAGO–On Wednesday, educators at the Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) will announce a strike deadline as they escalate their campaign in the face of management’s lack of urgency at the bargaining table. Coming on the heels of an overwhelming strike vote taken earlier this summer and piecemeal stalling tactics by the school’s management, the decision by educators to strike is the last and final option to guarantee that students and their families get the resources they need.

At the Wednesday press conference and rally, educators and arts instructors will join forces with parents, students and community to demand a safe, well-resourced and more supportive high school from ChiArts’ management.

“Chicago is a world-class city, with world-class theaters and world-class art institutions, and our classrooms at ChiArts should provide a bridge into that world for young artists,” said Christian Helem, an alum of the first class to graduate from ChiArts and a current theater educator at the school. “Regrettably, the school’s management has put their salaries and their own interests over providing a world-class education to our passionate young artists.”

ChiArts founder José Ochoa is responsible for raising money for the school. But in reality, he serves as an overseer of an unaccountable, private foundation that allows him and the board to shield resources from the classroom and public scrutiny. This slush fund allows them to skirt requirements for open meetings and transparency mandated by law for public schools. This unethical structure gives more power to an unaccountable handpicked board than to the parents, students and educators at the school.

ChiArts is Chicago’s only privately managed public arts high school and was opened to develop the next generation of diverse, artistically promising scholar-artists. Sadly, the school’s private management has neglected that mission through the long-term defunding of art instruction, significant reductions in staffing, inadequate resourcing of classrooms and the unwillingness to meet the social and emotional needs of the scholar-artists they purport to serve. Students at the Humboldt Park school have consistently had to attend classes without the benefit of a school nurse, dedicated full-time social workers or fully staffed counseling team.

“Despite benefiting from student based budgeting as a quasi charter school and seeing an increase in state funding, ChiArts has consistently cut academic positions, leaving our teachers and students scrambling to fill the gaps daily,” said Andrew Van Herik, an English teacher at the school. “Meanwhile, they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on administrators while neglecting the needs of our students in the classrooms. This lack of support for our classrooms has resulted in educator vacancies and instability for our students and entire school community.”

At the bargaining table, the Union has proposed increased support and protections for undocumented students, protection of educator prep time, hiring adequate staff to abide by Illinois state law on special education, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion through comprehensive anti-racist professional development. Management has rejected these proposals.

ChiArts could recruit and retain high-quality and diverse educators and pay them on par with their Chicago Public School colleagues. Regrettably, the management has chosen to funnel resources to a slush fund that props up bloated management costs, including more than $200,000 annually to Ochoa, while educators wonder whether the school is genuinely committed to its mission.

At Wednesday’s event, union educators and art instructors will announce their early September strike date, lay out their demands and urge ChiArts management to settle a fair contract now.

WHAT: ChiArts Strike Date Announcement

WHEN: Wednesday, August 30, 2023, 4:30 pm

WHERE: The Chicago High School for the Arts, 2714 W Augusta Blvd, Chicago, IL 60622

WHO: ChiArts Educators, ChiArts Parents, ChiArts Students, Community Members