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Lane Tech College Prep teachers just won a significant class size victory using the strengthened language in Article 28 of our Contract. In our collaboration, Lane delegate Mike Morrison’s member organizing led the effort, while CTU staffer Debby Pope, chairperson of the Class Size Committee, provided expertise and access to district-level structures to help seal the deal. This member-staff collaboration is a perfect example of what an organizing model of unionism should be.

Cramming in students “under the radar”

For years, the Lane Tech administration had routinely programmed 1–3 extra students into most classes. While this practice didn’t meet the threshold to trigger automatic relief under Article 28, it did violate the contract. It also imposed an unfair burden on teachers and clearly didn’t help student learning. Lane Tech teachers saw that they had both an interest and an educational responsibility to take action that would curb this harmful pattern.

School-based member organizing leads

As Lane Tech delegate, Mike went right to work getting his colleagues in formation. The steps he took could be a blueprint for class size organizing at any school. First, Mike consulted with the CTU class size council members. Following the guidance at ctulocal1.org/size, he assembled class size data from teachers. Next, he brought the data to the PPC. The rank and file members of the PPC made a plan to broach the problem with admin. As a result, PPC members went united, organized and with clear evidence to the problem to the administration with the goal of negotiating a solution to the problem at the local level.

Backing up members with district-level power

When the PPC meeting produced no solutions, Mike and Debby brought the information to the attention of the JCSAC (Joint Class Size Assessment Council). The JCSAC is a committee comprised of six representatives each from both the Union and the district administration. It has at its disposal the $35 million that Article 28 provides each year to fund class size relief throughout the district.

In response to Mike’s report, the JCSAC came in and did a comprehensive investigation, speaking to Admin, programmer, delegate, and teachers. They then met to hammer out the best workable solution to the issues at Lane, given the constraints of the situation and of the funding available.

A workable solution… for now

Since it was late in the year to reprogram and bring on new staff, the JCSAC then voted on a solution to provide all core subject teachers with oversized classes up to two hours weekly of paid after-school preparation time. For art, music and PE any teacher with an oversized load will also receive the added prep time. As we all know, extra students mean extra work, planning, preparing, and grading additional papers. In addition, by establishing a monetary cost for this overprogramming, the solution creates an incentive for the administration to program within contractual guidelines going forward.

The JCSAC and Lane teachers know this is only a first step. The Council will now be working to develop guidelines and procedures to eliminate the over-programming of classes and the unfair burden it places on teachers…at Lane and throughout the system.

Making the contract work for your school

The class size organizing at Lane Tech — and the relief it won — should inspire similar efforts at schools across the city where teachers and students alike suffer from overcrowded classrooms. On the other side of the city, Curie H.S. teachers who were facing a similar problem just received extended-day buckets for approximately 50 teachers after members there got together, shared their situations and voted on a solution, which was then funded by the JCSAC. If you face a similar situation, here’s what you can do:

  1. Check the guidelines at ctulocal1.org/size and seek advice from Debby at ClassSize@ctulocal1.org.
  2. Request class size data from your administration, which they are required to provide.
  3. Gather information and input from staff throughout the building.
  4. If you think the administration can make changes on its own to fix the problem, organize your PPC to present data and possible solutions to your administrators.
  5. If you can’t arrive at a solution with administrators or need funds to make one work, reach out to the Class Size Council by emailing Debby or using the class size referral form.

The $35 million per year for class size relief in our current contract has already produced hundreds of additional hires and provided relief from overcrowding in more than 150 schools. But CPS is still way behind many other districts in Illinois. The BOARD’s Student Based Budgeting policy encourages some principals to over-admit, while other schools struggle for enrollment. We need to further strengthen class size language in future contracts. That should be easier now because of the repeal of Section 4.5 of the school code, which limited our bargaining rights.