Contract battle hinges on demands for better classroom resources, more diversity, increased special education staffing, sanctuary schools, end to management bloat, equal pay for equal work.
CHICAGO, Oct. 30, 2018—Chicago Teachers Union educators at Acero charter schools voted overwhelmingly today to strike. 96% of Acero CTU members turned out to vote, and of those voting, 98% voted to strike. The CTU has 536 members at Acero’s 15 schools. 512 of those members voted—and of those, 503 voted YES on the strike ballot.
Educators at four unionized CICS charter schools will take a strike vote Friday. Roughly a thousand CTU charter educators are currently negotiating contracts with eleven charter operators.
“We’re fighting for educational justice,” said CTU member Andy Crooks, who is president of Acero’s division of CTU educators. “Our teachers, paraprofessionals, office coordinators and IT staff work longer hours in a longer school day and year for less than public schools. That’s got to change.”
Acero’s CEO earns more to manage a system of 8,000 students than Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s CPS CEO receives to manage a district of over 350,000 students, and costs for top management and non-classroom ‘administrative’ salaries eat heavily into Acero’s budget.
“Charter operators are failing charter school students,” said CTU ACTS Division Chair Chris Baehrend. “They’re diverting public funds away from education into private enrichment. We lack transparency, accountability and diversity. We’re putting the entire charter industry on notice—public funds will be used for public services in our schools, and if we have to strike to make that happen, we will.”
Besides better wages and more reasonable working conditions, CTU Acero educators are also fighting to make schools real sanctuary schools for a student population that is overwhelmingly Latinx. Special education needs and poor treatment of paraprofessionals are also critical issues.
“Our bosses call us ‘apprentices’—but there’s no management plan in place that allows us to advance our certification and become full special education teachers” said Acero paraprofessional Deniria Dukes. “We also desperately need staffing for special education that management simply refuses to provide. That is just wrong.”
Management’s refusal to offer ‘apprentices’ a path forward as classroom educators has severely undermined diversity in the classroom. By relegating minority educators into never-ending “apprenticeships”, Acero management is deploying CPS policy from decades ago, when Black and Brown educators were rarely provided full-time positions as general classroom teachers.
“This contract fight is about educational justice—and the educational justice movement rising across this country has come home to Chicago’s charter industry,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “The resources that come into charter operators’ hands are being funneled into the bosses’ boardrooms instead of our students’ educations. Charter operators across Chicago are diverting precious resources away from our classrooms into high management and CEO pay, into PR machines and marketing schemes, into the continued expansion of politically connected charter schools—sometimes even out of the city—in ways that hurt our ability to sustain those schools and support our students. We demand well-resourced schools, and we are prepared to strike to make that happen.”
Poor working conditions, low-ball pay and longer work hours also drive tremendous turnover at Acero schools.
“We have huge turnover rates at because management simply refuses to offer educators equal pay for equal work,” said Caroline Rutherford, vice chair of the CTU charter division and an Acero art teacher, who with nine years in the system is considered a veteran. “Turnover can range from 25-50% at some campuses. At the same time, class sizes are too large—and growing. Charters across the nation have been trying to put as many kids as they can get away with into the classroom with as few adults as possible. Cutting down class size is a key demand.”
Additional CTU demands include curriculum autonomy, adequate maternity/parental leave, a fair system of teacher evaluation and salary tables for paraprofessionals.