Unionized teachers from one of the largest charter school networks in Chicago headed to the picket lines Tuesday.
Acero teachers and support staff from 15 campuses with more than 7,000 students are going on strike after months of failed negotiations with charter network officials. This is the first charter school teachers strike in the nation.
The action is being taken by the United Educators for Justice, the union that represents Acero teachers and staff. The group joined forces with the Chicago Teachers Union earlier this year.
The main issues in negotiations for a new four-year contract have been class sizes, teacher and staff salaries and the length of the school day.
"Management had the power to settle a contract tonight—and instead they offered us more of the status quo that has plagued the charter industry for years," CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a news release shortly after contract negotiations ended.
In a YouTube statement Tuesday morning, Acero CEO Richard L. Rodriguez said network officials were “disappointed” by the union’s decision to strike.
“The sad fact is that interests from outside our community are using our communities and our schools for their national anti-charter school platform,” he said.
The Acero Charter school network, formerly known as UNO, manages 15 campuses that will not be holding classes Tuesday due to the walkout. As 550 teachers and staff take to picket lines, about 7,500 Acero students will be missing classes.
Acero officials are encouraging students to stay at home during the strike, but if that’s not possible for families, Acero said school buildings will remain open. Students will be served breakfast and lunch, and there will be group activities.
Union leaders said Acero officials didn’t offer wage hikes to support staff that would keep pace with inflation. The union also said salary increases for teachers offered by Acero administrators were unacceptable.
Throughout contract negotiations, teachers have complained about high turnover rates that they say are caused by inadequate compensation for teachers and support staff. They also say their regular school day is longer compared to Chicago Public Schools.
“It’s not fair that [students] don’t have a community of teachers where they feel like we are a family because so many of our members leave year after year,” said Hilary Naffziger, a seventh-grade teacher at Uno Acero Fuentes.
Classroom size has been a big issue for both sides in the contract dispute. Acero educators say they are tired of working in overcrowded classrooms where students are not getting the attention they need.
“In many of our schools we have 32 students in the kindergarten classroom, and that is not acceptable,” said Martha Baumgarten, a fifth-grade teacher at Acero UNO Fuentes.
Acero officials have argued that any proposal to reduce classroom size will take away educational opportunities from students.
In the final stages of negotiations, union leaders said they received financial documents detailing Acero revenue increases in 2018. That revenue, union leaders say, should go into classrooms instead of higher salaries for top school administrators.
Acero officials have said the increase in funding is the result of a change in Illinois law that modified the formula used to calculate charter schools funding. Those funds, Acero officials say, have been going toward hiring and costs for facilities. The funds were also going to the proposed new contract with the union, Acero said.
The CTU oversees 34 of Chicago’s charter school campuses, which are privately run but receive public dollars. Teachers at many of those charter schools have been coordinating their union efforts during contract negotiations to flex their collective muscle and push their agenda forward.
Adriana Cardona-Maguigad is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her @wbezeducation on Twitter.