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Teachers’ union, charter school operator reach tentative deal; strike suspended

CTU President Jesse Sharkey (right) and VIce President Stacy Davis Gates at a rally outside the Thompson Center. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago International Charter School have agreed on a tentative contract and a nine-day teachers’ strike has been suspended, the union announced Monday.

In the proposed four-year agreement, CICS’ operator, Civitas Education Partners, agreed to hike teacher salaries to the level that Chicago Public Schools pays by the final year, according to a CTU news release. Educators are expected to see average pay raises of almost 35 percent by the end of the contract.

The starting salary for CICS teachers is about $44,000, about $8,000 less than that of starting Chicago Public Schools teachers.

The tentative contact also aims to reduce class sizes to 28 students, with a cap at 30, CTU said. Other language in the contract includes more stringent standards for special education services as well as a “sanctuary school” provision that protects undocumented students from federal immigration enforcement agencies.

“This is a huge victory for students, this is a huge victory for families and this is a huge victory for low-wage educators who have been fighting for dignity and respect on the job,” CTU spokeswoman Chris Geovanis said Monday morning.

Luis Sanchez, CICS’ director of communications and public affairs, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though the charter school operator did post a statement online.

“The good news is that a compromise was reached,” the CICS statement said. “If CEP had met all of CTU’s financial demands, the four schools would have become insolvent and been forced to close.”

Still, the statement said there were “cuts and compromises,” needed to fund the salary increase. That means, according to CICS, that the number of instructional coaches, assistant principals and other support staff likely would be limited in the future. CICS also agreed to a reduced work year and work day for teachers.

The union said Civitas agreed to “revising” its fee structure in the tentative contract. The CTU accused the charter school operator of hoarding $36 million in surplus public education funds; Civitas says it has $18 million and that barely scrapes Illinois’ fiscal recommendation for an emergency reserve fund.

Nearly 200 teachers at the charter network walked off their jobs Feb. 5, joining picket lines at their campuses and CICS’s Loop office in Chicago’s second charter school strike. The city’s first one, by educators from the Acero charter network and lasting four days in December, was the first charter school strike in America.

“This is a huge step forward in terms of reforming the charter industry, which basically banks its own personal profits on the fact that it pays workers less to do more,” Geovanis said.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will lead a group of educators and parents demanding reforms Tuesday at CICS’s quarterly board meeting in the Loop, Geovanis said.

Contributing: Troy Closson