Chicago Teachers Union sets strike vote over $452M in demands

Chicago Teachers Union sets strike vote over $452M in demands

Chicago students could be out of school as early as Oct. 7 if union members vote for a third strike in seven years. CTU members already earn salaries that top most of their big-city peers.

The Chicago Teachers Union could be on strike for the third time in seven years by Oct. 7, if the city does not meet demands worth $452 million for members already out-earning teachers in many of the nation’s largest cities.

CTU late Sept. 4 announced its members would vote Sept. 24 through Sept. 26 on whether to authorize a strike. If 75% of the members agree, the strike could start and Chicago Public Schools students would be out of school as early as Oct. 7.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially offered teachers 14% in raises over five years, but the union is demanding 15% over three years. Union demands total $452 million in the first year and would rise each year with salary and pension increases.

An independent fact-finder recommended 16% in raises over five years, which Lightfoot agreed to accept. CTU rejected the neutral fact-finder’s contract recommendation, and CTU’s House of Delegates authorized the strike vote Sept. 4 – one day after Chicago students returned to school.

CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates tweeted a photo of strike signs demanding “smaller class sizes,” captioned with the message “who wants one?” late afternoon on Sept. 4.

CTU’s strike vote announcement stated: “While CPS is raking in more than $1 billion in new annual dollars this year, too many students returned to classrooms on Tuesday staffed by substitute teachers, while others returned to over-sized classes.”

Chicago Public Schools spends $15,412 per student. That is $2,075, or 16%, higher than the Illinois average. CPS continues to underperform the state academic achievement benchmarks year after year. Average SAT scores in CPS schools are 56 points lower than the state average, four-year graduation rates are 11 percentage points lower, and the percentage of CPS teachers rated proficient or excellent comes in at 11 percentage points lower than the state average.

Fewer than 1% of Illinois districts have a higher base salary than CPS, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The maximum salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree is also the fourth highest at over $96,000, not adjusted for cost of living.

While the current offer to the union is for 16% in raises over five years, in reality the boost is much more as a result of “step” increases that boost a teacher’s salary for each year of service.   CPS in a statement said the average teacher would see a 24% salary boost. “For example, a second-year teacher would see their salary rise from $53K in 2019 to over $72K in the final year of the agreement, which is equivalent to a 35% pay raise,” the district stated.

When compared with school districts in the nation’s 10 largest cities for which data was available, CPS already has the highest maximum salary for teachers with a bachelor’s degree, as well as the highest maximum salary for teachers with a master’s degree, according to the Teacher Contract Database of the National Council on Teacher Quality. They come in second, behind San Antonio Independent School District, for base salary of new teachers with bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees. CPS has the highest average salary among school districts in 10 of the nation’s top 13 largest cities – comparable data was not available for three of the cities – when adjusted for cost of living.

Salary demands and health insurance costs are contract issues, but CTU is also asking for more teachers and support staff, such as nurses and counselors. In total, CTU is demanding the district hire just under 4,400 new staff. Using the prior salary schedule, it would cost an estimated $304 million in the first year.

Politico reported Lightfoot offered to hire an additional 200 social workers and 250 full time nurses, adding to the current 413 social workers and 310 nurses. However, CTU wants 500 additional nurses and enough social workers to bring the ratio of general education students to counselors to 250 to 1 and the ratio of special education students to counselors to 50 to 1, according to the Chicago Tribune. Given the district’s 372,214 students, that would require more than 1,000 new social workers.

CPS’ history of mismanagement and poor financial decisions has led to excessive borrowing and a “junk” credit rating. Its debt has quadrupled since 1998, with current debt at over $8 billion. The district is also forced to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund after multiple years of making inadequate contributions.

Because pension benefits are determined by salary, yearly contributions would also increase. The 2017 education funding bill now places those rising costs on the state – not the district. Illinois has been ranked worst in the nation for fiscal health and is not in a financial condition to cover even more pension contributions for CPS.

Just under $11 billion of unfunded pension liabilities means CPS’ budget and contract woes will continue each year. Without pension reform, the district budget will continue to be distressed and hinder the union’s contract goals, such as hiring more teachers, school counselors and nurses.

Not to mention the added stress on city residents. Chicago taxpayers face the highest debt burden of the 10 most populous cities in the country, according to Truth in Accounting.

Starting Oct. 7, Chicago parents could also be looking at extra day care costs.

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