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Charter school teachers set Thursday strike plans; 1 school averts stoppage

Charter school teachers rally ahead of a planned strike. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Teachers at five Chicago charter schools rallied Wednesday evening ahead of a planned strike aimed at pressuring the publicly funded, privately run schools to raise wages and improve student services to match their Chicago Public Schools counterparts.

The roughly 130 educators represented by the Chicago Teachers Union plan a news conference at one of the affected schools, Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, 2520 S. Western Ave., at 7 a.m Thursday, according to a CTU statement released Wednesday night. Then at 1 p.m., strike participants plan to picket at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools at 150 N. Michigan Ave., the statement said.

From there, striking teachers plan to march to Harold Washington College, at 30 E. Lake St., to join in solidarity with striking City Colleges clerks and technical workers, the statement said.

The educators rallied at the end of the workday Wednesday outside the Chicago High School for the Arts — another one of the schools facing a strike.

Teachers from a third school of the five, Youth Connection Leadership Academy, were at the rally and initially expected to strike, but school leadership released a statement while the rally went on announcing that a tentative contract agreement had been reached.

“We are pleased to announce that Youth Connection Leadership Academy has reached an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union, the union that represents our 11 teachers, on a fair multiyear contract agreement that recognizes the commitment, skills and expertise of our teachers, while also securing the fiscal stability of our unique alternative charter school,” YCLA principal Lorraine Cruz wrote in a statement.

CTU charter division chair Chris Baehrend said at the rally that he no longer expected YCLA teachers to strike Thursday.

Charter school teachers rally ahead of a planned strike. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times
Charter school teachers rally ahead of a planned strike. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

The rest of the teachers, however, planned to hit the picket line in a strike expected to affect more than 1,500 students at four South and West Side schools: Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, Instituto Justice Leadership Academy, Chicago High School for the Arts and Latino Youth High School.

Instituto officials said the two sides bargained all day Tuesday and Wednesday and would meet again Thursday morning.

The two Instituto schools serve primarily low-income students aged 17-21 who previously left school and are want to earn a high school diploma. Instituto officials said last week that they would work on a “contingency plan that will continue to provide a safe and engaging place [for students] to go.”

In an effort to more closely align with CPS schools, the charter school teachers are looking for improved pay and benefits; better staffing of nurses, social workers and counselors; protections for immigrant students; and financial transparency.

“Our problem is not with each of these individual employers,” Baehrend told reporters Wednesday. “It’s the charter industry that has misplaced priorities — they have business priorities, we have student priorities.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten speaks to reporters at a CTU rally. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten speaks to reporters at a CTU rally. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, of which the CTU is an affiliate, attended the rally and paid homage to May Day, an international May 1 celebration of laborers.

“The teachers in these five schools are saying to Chicago, ‘We want to teach. We want kids to learn,'” Weingarten said. “Teachers want what students need, and if it takes us walking the streets and going on strike to do that — in the great tradition of the Chicago labor movement on May Day — we will be doing that.”

A couple dozen students joined the rally outside the Humboldt Park school as passing cars honked their horns while the marching teachers chanted, “Teachers united will never be divided.”

Carlene Carpenter, a teacher at Latino Youth High School, said her employer had been “dragging its feet” in what she called an “insulting,” drawn-out contract negotiation since last summer. She said the teachers’ demands were not unreasonable: Fair wages, a fair contract and better resources for students, including mental-health and after-school programs.

“We serve students that experience trauma at higher than normal rates, and they need these resources,” Carpenter said. “We care about our students. We want them to be successful.

“If these charter operators really cared about education — and they really cared about our students — we wouldn’t be here today.”

Teacher Carlene Carpenter speaks to reporters at a CTU rally ahead of a planned strike. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times
Teacher Carlene Carpenter speaks to reporters at a CTU rally ahead of a planned strike. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times