CHICAGO—Chicago public school teachers, clinicians and paraprofessionals entered the second day of their voting for strike re-authorization by calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked Chicago Board of Education to stop eliminating nurses, social workers, counselors and psychologists because students impacted by violence and poverty don’t have equitable access to crisis intervention in their schools.
Since 2013, social workers have plummeted from 378 to 309, a decline of 18 percent, according to Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) research. However, the number of district students per social worker has increased by 13 percent, from 861 to 971 students per social worker. However, like other clinicians, social workers also service students across many CPS charter schools, spreading insufficient resources even thinner.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has steadily cut the number of certified school nurses as the district turns to outsourcing clinician services. There are now just over 160 certified school nurses, down from over 200 in 2013—a 20 percent decline. The ratio of students to nurses has increased over this time period by 15 percent—from over 1,600 to 1,850 students per nurse.
“Our clinicians provide a vital service to our students, and to cut them at a time when the city is under siege by gun violence, violent crime, poverty and cuts to social service programs is poor judgment,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said. “Psychologists, social workers and counselors help students cope with problems brought on by family stress, neighborhood violence, unemployment, low-paying jobs and a variety of other issues associated with life in poverty.”
“One logical step the mayor could take is to ensure that all students have equitable and appropriate access to the services they need,” Sharkey added.
CPS changed its budgeting formula, decreasing the number of school counselors available at many of its large elementary and high schools. Schools have lost over 130 counselors since 2013, from nearly 800 down to 685. Counseling services also suffer because the district fails to provide enough resources for special education services, resulting in school counselors doing double duty as special education case managers. Last year, over 60 percent of elementary school counselors were also tasked with case manager duties.
Educators say these troubling statistics underscore why so many are fed up with the district’s mishandling of city schools and are considering a third strike since 2012. CTU members engaged in a one-day unfair labor practice strike on April 1, and say if they are forced to withhold their labor again, a potential fall strike could be much longer.
Results of the re-authorization vote will be announced next week after the Union has informed its rank-and-file members and school leaders of the results. The last day of voting in schools is Friday, Sept. 22.