“We’ll strike if that’s what it takes to get better classroom resources for our students,” say rank and file educators at four charter schools controlled by CICS charter operator.
CHICAGO—CTU charter teachers and paraprofessionals at four CICS/Civitas/Quest schools voted overwhelmingly to strike this afternoon in their battle for more classroom resources for students and better treatment of educators by the charter operator.
Out of the four-school bargaining unit of roughly 150 union workers, 138 CTU members, more than 90% of the union workforce, voted. 133 union members, just over 96% of those who cast ballots, voted to strike. More than 70% of the workforce is female, and over half identify as people of color.
Management has stalled for months at the bargaining table over demands that range from the critical need for more special education teachers to management’s scheme to raise class sizes. At the same time, nearly a third of taxpayer dollars never make it to the classroom, instead going to bankroll CEO pay and exorbitant management costs.
Charter managers admitted to teachers today that one school pays over 24% of its public education dollars directly to CICS and its ‘manager’ Civitas, instead of spending those funds on students in classrooms. CPS takes an additional amount—between 2.3 and 2.8 percent of public education dollars at each school—for its own ‘fee’.
“Even after the Illinois’ General Assembly passed new educational funding a year ago, there still aren’t enough funds going into our schools,” said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. “That is offensive to our students who need special education and other educational supports, and it is offensive to parents and educators who come out of their own pockets to pay for basic classroom resources that charter operators should be providing. Instead, operators use public education dollars for patronage and six-figure executive salaries. The fact that too much is getting spent on CEO pay and management costs is a slap in the face to all the people who worked desperately to change the state funding formula. Our members are fighting to make these charter operations authentic school communities — and are demanding that charter operators capitulate.”
Teacher Jen Conant, who chairs the educators’ council at CICS’ three Civitas-managed schools, agreed. “Right now we have paraprofessionals teaching classes because of severe teacher shortages, and our schools have very high turnover rates as staff leave for less harsh working conditions. We don’t want to strike, but we will if that’s what it takes to win better educational supports for our students.”
The union is demanding full recognition and bargaining rights for roughly 40 Civitas school paraprofessionals who’ve voted overwhelmingly to join the union; full staffing and smaller class sizes instead of the 14 percent increase in class size that management is demanding; a commitment from CICS to follow all state and federal special education laws, which the charters have rejected; fair compensation — including quality health benefits—to help attract and retain a qualified, experienced, stable workforce; and living wages and dignity for paraprofessionals, who provide vital services to students.
“We’re not second class educators, and we don’t deserve second class treatment from our bosses,” said Chris Baehrend, who heads up the CTU’s charter division. “Our members deserve equal pay for equal work, just as our students deserve real equity and justice in educational funding. Instead, management treats public dollars like a piggy bank for their own profit, robbing our students of millions of dollars a year for trauma supports, special education needs, enrichment programs and the host of other educational resources they need for a well-rounded education. That’s got to end.”
CTU members at 15 UNO/Acero schools voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to strike. Both CICS and Acero are among 11 charter operators currently in contract talks with the CTU at more than 30 charter schools.