Chicago International Charter School teachers set strike date

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Teachers at four Chicago International Charter School locations on Thursday announced they’ll go on strike Feb. 5 unless they reach a new deal with management. | Mitch Armentrout/Sun-Times

Teachers at four Chicago International Charter School locations on Thursday announced they’ll go on strike Feb. 5 unless they reach a new deal with management, setting the stage for what would be the city’s second charter teacher strike in as many months.

The roughly 140 CICS educators represented by the Chicago Teachers Union voted overwhelmingly in November to authorize a strike at CICS’ ChicagoQuest, Northtown, Wrightwood and Ralph Ellison campuses, potentially impacting more than 2,200 students.

CTU members rallying Thursday morning outside CICS Wrightwood on the Southwest Side said contract talks have stalled since then, as they seek pay raises, smaller class sizes, improved special education resources, better wages for paraprofessionals and additional school counselors and social workers. Their last contract expired in August.

“We are hopeful that all parties will be able to come to an agreement prior to that date so that students and teachers can remain in the classroom,” CICS officials said in a statement. “During this time, our highest priority is ensuring that students are safe and that we minimize the disruption to their learning.”

Teachers at 15 Acero network schools approved a strike shortly before CICS teachers did, and they eventually walked off the job for four days in December to become the first group of charter teachers to go on strike anywhere in the country.

CICS teachers could stage the third-ever charter strike, after charter educators joined the massive teachers strike in Los Angeles earlier this week.

The union has slammed the charter operator for “bloated, wasteful management fees and salaries” that they say takes up one in every three dollars in funding received by CICS — a claim the network disputes.

“We know that CICS has the money and the ability to do better by our students and schools,” said Jen Conant, a CICS Northtown math teacher who chairs the teachers’ bargaining team.

The charter network said all four campuses will remain open if the strike happens, with principals and non-union staff still on the job and students participating in “online learning, recreational and arts activities.” After-school programs would be canceled.

“CICS is disappointed that the CTU has chosen to announce this strike and we will do everything we can to minimize the harm to our students and their families,” the network said.

A CTU spokeswoman called that a “dog whistle for soliciting scabs.”

The starting salary for a CICS teacher is about $44,000, about $8,000 less than starting Chicago Public Schools teachers make.

Civitas Education Partners — a management firm in charge of hiring and contract negotiations for CICS — said in November that it agrees “our teachers should make more money.” According to Civitas, the firm’s most recent offer in December included an 8.8 percent increase in teacher pay in the first year of the contract, adding up to a 28 percent increase over four years.

Civitas CEO LeeAndra Kahn said the sides are in agreement on about three quarters of the contract terms, but are still negotiating over pay and some working conditions.

The firm has said CTU proposals have called for a shorter school day and year, and “a salary schedule that could lead to the elimination of services, programming and positions in our schools.”

With their four-day strike, Acero teachers were able to secure 2 percent yearly cost-of-living pay increases, along with a provisions to reduce class sizes and preventing the network from sharing information on undocumented students with immigration authorities.

The CTU represents teachers at 34 of the city’s 130 charter schools.

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