Teachers at 3 Chicago charter schools go on strike

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Teachers at three Chicago charter schools went on strike last week. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Educators at three Chicago charter schools went on strike Thursday in what’s billed as the nation’s first protest against multiple charter operators.

About 80 educators and support staff took to the picket lines, including at the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, 2520 S. Western Ave.

“At a time when charters have received the largest distribution of resources from the state of Illinois . . . , what they’ve done is expand the bloat at the administrative level,” said Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union. “They have neglected to make sure that those funds trickle down to the classrooms.”

Strikers complain that their starting wages at the charter schools are about 40 percent lower than those of teachers at non-charter Chicago Public Schools — a situation they say is driving teachers to find work elsewhere.

Aurelius Raines, a physics teacher at IHSCA, said he knows of six teachers who have left his school.

“Not because they were let go, but because they could not afford to stay here and teach,” Raines said. “They had to find a job someplace else. They all found jobs paying them much more money. … That means I go into a classroom and I see a bunch of children who are sitting in front of a substitute and they are not getting an education. They just have a worksheet.”

The two sides have been negotiating since October. Teachers are on strike at IHSCA and the Instituto Justice Leadership Academy, both run by Instituto del Progreso Latino, and Latino Youth High School, which is run by Pilsen Wellness Center.

But Progreso Latino released a statement saying the organization is “deeply disappointed” by the strike, given, in part that the two sides have held some 20 bargaining sessions and were making “significant progress.”

“IHSCA and IJLA are committed to reaching a fair agreement for our teachers and staff, but we are troubled by any proposal from CTU that would have a significantly negative impact on our students, including those that are not financially sustainable for our schools,” according to the statement, which notes that IHSCA serves about 700 students, 99 % of whom are Latino.

A spokeswoman from Pilsen Wellness Center could not be reached for comment.

The union reached a contract agreement overnight with the Chicago High School for the Arts.

And a fifth school, Youth Connection Leadership Academy, reached an agreement with its teachers late Wednesday afternoon.

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