After ten months of bargaining, CTU educators are still struggling with CPS to carve a path forward to an agreement that meaningfully improves conditions in over 500 Chicago public schools. Livestream of tonight’s press conference is at this link.
CHICAGO, Oct. 15, 2019—Rank and file teachers, social workers, school nurses, teaching assistants and other critical frontline staff spent today bargaining again with CPS—without reaching a tentative agreement. As a Thursday strike date looms, the parties remain far apart on key demands designed to improve working and learning conditions in over 500 district-run public schools.
Tonight, the union’s rank and file bargaining team announced that it was unanimously recommending that the union’s elected House of Delegates vote Wednesday to go forward with the strike. Bargaining is scheduled to resume Wednesday.
“My youngest child has never known what it’s like to have a librarian,” said Monroe Elementary teacher Lori Torres, who brought her young son with her to tonight’s press conference. “Never. He’s never known what it’s like to have a language teacher at his school. Never. That was cut the year he came. When I hear stories about ‘progress’ at the bargaining table, I shake my head. It’s not enough. It’s just not enough.”
Mayor Lightfoot campaigned on putting a social worker, a librarian and a school nurse in every school.
But today, few general education students have access to social workers or nurses, who provide services almost exclusively to special education students. Special education services themselves are under the supervision of a state monitor, to remedy grave inequities in CPS support for diverse learners. That leaves schools with a nurse in the building barely one day a week, and few general education students with regular access to a social worker, even as students struggle with high levels of trauma driven by poverty and neighborhood violence.
Barely one in four schools has a librarian, and that number falls to barely one in ten for Black-majority schools, down from almost every school just a decade ago, even as the district claims it’s committed to raising reading skills.
On virtually every proposal that the union has put forward to improve these dire shortages in the schools, the mayor’s bargaining team has balked—even though the union’s demands literally mirror candidate Lightfoot’s promises for real equity and educational justice.
Sticking points also include the union’s call for hard caps on class sizes, which are chronically among the largest in the state. Preliminary CPS 20th day enrollment numbers indicate that at least 1,300 classrooms are overcrowded this year, up from over a thousand last year. Those numbers are based on CPS’ own agreed-upon maximum class sizes in the current contract.
CPS’ current class size offer falls far short of what’s needed to address to the sweeping scale of the problem. CPS is pledging now to enforce existing contract language regarding class sizes for grades K-3 rather than grades K-2, but has yet to agree to respect existing caps for other grades.
That inadequate proposal comes as some kindergarten classes have skyrocketed to 40 or more students per class, and close to 25% of elementary students are in classes that burst through CPS’ currently contractually agreed upon class limits. Approximately 35% of high school students attend at least one overcrowded class, and at high schools like Simeon, virtually every core class is overcrowded, with 38 or more students crammed into math, world language and social studies classes.
“While our pressure has worked to move the board in our direction, they simply have not moved far enough fast enough,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “We came into these negotiations asking a lot. We came in hoping that we could achieve class sizes small enough so we could provide students with the individual attention they deserve. We came into these negotiations hoping that we could give healing, hope and love to students who are dealing with trauma. We’ve asked for a lot, because we give a lot, and our students deserve it. And what we’ve gotten from CPS at the bargaining table is simply not enough. We want the schools our students deserve. And we will strike if we must for our students and our families to win those schools.”
This summer, the union laid out a detailed case for why CPS can afford the union’s demands for smaller classes, adequate staffing and more resources in the schools. CPS is currently collecting over a billion dollars a year in additional revenues from the State through Illinois’ 2017 equity-based school funding formula, which channels more resources to CPS to lower class sizes, provide more supports to English language learners, address high levels of trauma among students, support low-income learners and special education students, and provide wrap-around supports to students in need.
But CPS will spend less in this year’s record $7.7 billion budget on classroom resources than it did last year. That leaves public schoolchildren chronically shortchanged of the kinds of well-resourced schools that residents in suburbs like Schaumburg or Winnetka take as a given. And that inequity is worth striking to remedy.
CPS also remains a hard ‘no’ at the table on a number of other critical issues—including mandatory bargaining issues that include wages for veteran teachers, whose pay stalls after their 14th year of service, critical morning prep time, escalating health insurance costs, and living wages for teaching assistants and school clerks, the majority of whom would still be mired in poverty in year five of the mayor’s proposed contract. Educators are also balking at Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s demand for a five-year contract, saying they refuse to be locked into five years of inadequate CPS support for school communities.