CTU members call on charter operator to stop stalling, stop diverting resources from classrooms, negotiate a fair contract that supports students and educators

CHICAGO—Unionized educators and staff at Instituto del Progreso Latino (IDPL) have voted unanimously to authorize a strike as charter management refuses to bargain a fair contract that supports educator and student needs even as it pockets additional dollars in bogus fees from its two schools, diverting critical resources from classrooms.

The strike vote, approved by all Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members voting at Instituto schools, comes in the wake of IDPL mismanagement that led to mass resignations of all special ed teachers and chronic staff shortages that deny students the quality education they deserve at Instituto Health Science Career Academy (IHSCA) and the Instituto Justice Leadership Academy (IJLA).

Since bargaining began last year, the charter operator has refused to address educators’ concerns for special ed staffing, more bilingual resources for the school’s predominantly Latine students, and sustainable pay and benefits in order to hire and retain experienced educators.

Instead of addressing these problems and negotiating a fair contract in line with others across the school district, Instituto management has raised management and occupancy fees for the two schools it controls by an astronomical 81 percent — to over $3.1 million per year. Fees paid to Instituto now account for 23 percent of the schools’ combined budget.

At the same time, charter management is demanding concessions that would limit educators’ union rights and quash their ability to file grievances to advocate for student needs.

“No one wants a strike — it is always a last resort. But instead of good faith bargaining for a fair contract that supports our students and their educators, Instituto has decided it wants to punish union educators for speaking out instead,” Leah Jonaitis, a history teacher and union chair at IHSCA, said. “Management has left us no choice but to prepare for action because we are determined to keep fighting for what our students, their families and our school communities need.”

Both Instituto schools face a severe teacher shortage and continue to see chronic staff turnover. At the beginning of the school year, all special education teachers resigned due to mismanagement, forcing remaining educators to pick up the slack and leaving students without vital services to which they are legally entitled. Every day, many classes are filled with substitute teachers.

Instituto continues to struggle to retain quality teachers and staff due to low pay and insufficient classroom resources.  IDPL’s proposed compensation package, which is far below what other Chicago charter and district educators earn for the comparable work, will continue to drive out the experienced, high quality educators students deserve.

That package is all the more insulting given Instituto’s rosy financial picture. In 2020, the charter operator received a $2.1 million Paycheck Protection Loan that was then forgiven by the federal government. Rather than invest those funds in the classroom, IDPL pocketed the money and imposed exorbitant raises in phony fees on the two schools.

Like most charter schools, Instituto runs its charter campuses as separate entities for accounting purposes. It owns the school buildings — construction of which was heavily funded with taxpayer subsidies — then turns around and charges the schools rent and other “management” fees.

“Instituto is milking its schools for over $3 million a year in bogus fees instead of investing that money in our classrooms,” Gabriela Solis, a math teacher at IJLA, said. “Imagine how many special ed or bilingual educators or classroom resources that could pay for if Instituto management had its priorities straight.”

CTU members at the school are ready to negotiate a fair contract but they need a willing partner on the other side of the table.

“We will stay at the bargaining table as long as it takes to win what our students, families and educators need,” Solis said. “But we will hit the picket lines if necessary to ensure our students and our schools have the resources they deserve.”

The CTU represents 48 members and staff serving a total 550 students at both Instituto schools. The strike vote by members authorizes the union’s negotiating team to set a date for the strike if Instituto continues to balk at educators’ reasonable demands. At press time, additional bargaining was scheduled for this week.

The Chicago Teachers Union represents nearly 30,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the more than 300,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.