Classes canceled Monday as Chicago teacher contract negotiations continue

As talks continue, parents and students learned Sunday night there will be no school on Monday.

SHARE Classes canceled Monday as Chicago teacher contract negotiations continue

Chicago Teachers Union members and their supporters rally in Daley Plaza earlier this week before marching through the Loop.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools classes are canceled for a third day after both the city and the Chicago Teachers Union spent several hours Sunday negotiating to reach a deal to end the union’s strike.

Jennifer Johnson, chief of staff for CTU, said negotiations ended Sunday evening with both sides reaching agreements on issues affecting students experiencing homelessness, school counselors and early childhood educators.

Johnson also said the union provided the city with a counter-proposal on class sizes, and it plans to respond to the school district’s staffing proposal early Monday.

“After two days of school being canceled while we’re on strike, we’ve seen movement and made some wins,” Johnson said. “It shouldn’t take being on strike for the needs of our students to be met, but as we’ve said repeatedly, we’re looking for a just contract.”

From left, Chicago Teachers Union president Jesse Sharkey, chief of staff Jennifer Johnson and vice president Stacy Davis Gates provide an update on the union’s fourth day of contract negotiations with the city since beginning to strike on Thursday.

From left, Chicago Teachers Union president Jesse Sharkey, chief of staff Jennifer Johnson and vice president Stacy Davis Gates provide an update on the union’s fourth day of contract negotiations with the city since beginning to strike on Thursday.

Jake Wittich / Sun-Times

Speaking to reporters Monday morning on the Northwest Side, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the two sides could reach an agreement in “a day or two.”

”I don’t see any reason why it can’t happen later this week,” Sharkey said outside Gray Elementary in Portage Park.

He said there was a “tremendous amount” of progress in negotiations over the weekend, but “we’re not there yet.”

Sharkey said he understands the strike has been tough on students, parents and teachers who want to get back into the classroom. He said his own son’s high school soccer team qualified for the state playoffs and might miss out on his game.

But Sharkey said there needs to be a “commitment of new resources” before the union can end its strike.

”We could end this within a couple days, but there would need to be a commitment on the mayor’s part to do that,” he said. 

Some of the issues he said still need to be addressed — other than the main points of class size and staffing — are wages for the district’s lowest-paid support staff, teacher preparation time and salary bumps for veteran teachers who have “no meaningful career ladder” after about a dozen years with the district, he said.

Christy Brooks, a CPS school counselor and bargaining team member, said the two parties agreed on language that would mandate counselors be assigned counseling work. But an agreement has not yet been reached on adding more counselors.

Bargaining team member Lucille Thompson, a school clerk who works closely with students in temporary living situations, said the two parties also agreed to create a new position dedicated to helping students experiencing homelessness.

On early childhood education, Arathi Jayaram, a pre-school teacher at Audubon Elementary School, said the district agreed to add a provision that all pre-school classrooms comply with a state law mandating a 10-to-1 ratio of students to adults. Jayaram said the district also agreed to add more support staff committed to pre-school classrooms.

“We’ve seen movement in the right direction on other topics — special education and teacher evaluation — but we’re not there,” Johnson said. “We’re still waiting for a response on paraprofessional pay for the black and brown women who are the backbone of our schools.”

Johnson said the district’s class size proposal was “extraordinarily narrow,” so the union countered it to establish a provision creating class size caps that could be enforced throughout the duration of a new contract.

“CPS needs to invest real dollars in ensuring that the student-to-teacher ratio in high-need schools is addressed,” Johnson said.

The union hopes to see a response to the counter-proposal tomorrow. Negotiations are set to resume at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

CPS announced Sunday evening that classes and after-school activities would be canceled again on Monday.

All school buildings will remain open for students who need a safe place to stay, as they did last week when the union’s strike began. Breakfast and lunch will be served, as well as a take-home supper.

CTA rides are still free for students traveling to and from schools or other safe places outlined in the district’s contingency plan.

Students are encouraged to go to their regular schools, where principals and other non-union staff will be supervising, but they can stay at any age-appropriate CPS facility.

Guardians were encouraged to register their students online for the contingency site they’ll be going to, so the district can allocate the appropriate amount of resources and supervisors.

In an email sent to parents Sunday evening, CPS CEO Janice Jackson said under the district’s current offer, the average teacher’s salary will rise to almost $100,000, with support staff like clerks, nurses and teachers assistants’ salaries raising more than 20% over five years.

Jackson said the district gave updated proposals over the last few days on the union’s high-priority issues of class sizes and staffing. The offer would set aside more than $10 million to address overcrowded classrooms and hire more social workers, nurses and special education case managers.

“We believe our generous compensation, staffing and class size proposals represent a strong foundation for an agreement that will put us back on the path to success, and we are committed to doing what it takes to re-open schools as quickly as possible,” Jackson said.

On Saturday, the two sides agreed to extend a moratorium on new city charter schools and found common ground on a few other issues. Those include professional development for teachers and the continuation of programs that would help school support staffers move into teaching roles, an agreement aimed at hiring more teachers of color.

Contributing: Nader Issa

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