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Charter school strike nears 7th day, could match length of CTU walkout in 2012

Chicago Teachers Union members picket outside the Thompson Center on Tuesday afternoon. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Chicago Teachers Union members picket outside the Thompson Center on Tuesday afternoon. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

It’s poised to match the length of Chicago’s famous 2012 public school teacher strike.

It’s quickly become the longest charter teacher strike ever.

And there’s no end in sight.

Wrapping up the sixth day of picketing at four campuses across the city, Chicago International Charter School teachers marched to the Loop office of Kwame Raoul Tuesday afternoon to urge the Illinois attorney general to investigate the charter network’s finances.

“Six days. We are beyond offended at the need for us to continue to get up every single morning, [in temperatures] below freezing, on a picket line, because we’re asking for enforceable class-size limits. Because we’re asking for counselors. They should be ashamed of themselves,” Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said.

“The end is in sight when [CICS CEO] Elizabeth Shaw takes a seat at the table.”

CTU VIce President Stacy Davis Gates speaks Tuesday at a rally outside the Thompson Center. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

CTU VIce President Stacy Davis Gates speaks Tuesday at a rally outside the Thompson Center. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

CTU leaders accuse the CICS management firm Civitas Education Partners and its web of three subsidiary organizations of siphoning off $36 million in public money to line executives’ pockets instead of bringing teacher salaries up to scale with their Chicago Public Schools counterparts.

The charter operator has defended their reserve funds as fiscally responsible and insist teacher evaluations and compensation are the sticking points holding up a deal, despite the operator’s offer of 31 percent raises over a four-year contract — numbers the union contests.

CICS also defended its complex corporate structure as a part of a “diverse school portfolio which includes many learning models that serve a large and vibrant student community.”

They say the teachers’ salary demands, if proportionally distributed “out of fairness” across CICS’ 10 non-unionized campuses, would bankrupt the network within three years.

“While CICS deeply values its teachers, the organization has to ensure that any agreement will be financially sustainable for all campuses,” a network spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Shaw has not attended negotiations because CICS is not the teachers’ employer, the network said, noting that Civitas CEO LeeAndra Khan has been at the table.

Civitas says the sides have “made progress” in several areas, including paraprofessional compensation; reducing the work year to 190 days and the work day to seven hours and 45 minutes; increasing paid time off to 12 days and capping class sizes at 28.

Union leaders disputed the offer and said most of those topics are still very much in flux.

“We’re going to remain on strike and demand justice until we get what’s right,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said.

Tuesday marked the sixth straight school day disrupted since the 175 educators began picketing Feb. 5.

The charter operator has maintained a skeleton staff of non-union administrators and staff to keep the four schools open to their roughly 2,200 students, but just a tiny fraction have shown up at CICS’ Wrightwood Elementary and three high schools: Northtown Academy, Ralph Ellison and ChicagoQuest.

The union notched the backing of Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth on Monday, who tweeted her support for the striking CICS teachers.

“Educators and teachers must be given the resources they need to help our students succeed. CICS must bargain in good faith on fair wages and educational justice for students,” Duckworth wrote.

Negotiations were scheduled to continue Tuesday evening.

Acero charter network teachers brought their salaries in line with CPS teachers when they staged the first-ever charter teacher strike for four days in December. Charter teachers also joined the six-day Los Angeles teacher strike last month.

CTU members, whose clash with Mayor Rahm Emanuel brought CPS to a halt for seven days in 2012, are currently in talks with the city as their contract is set to expire at the end of June.

The longest teacher strike in Chicago history lasted for 19 days in 1987.