Teachers At High Profile All-Boys Charter School In Chicago Authorize A Strike

Known for its 100% college acceptance rate among seniors, Urban Prep staff say they are underpaid and face poor working conditions.

WBEZ
The Englewood campus of Urban Prep is one of the charter's campuses where staff have voted to authorize a strike. Andrew Gill / WBEZ
WBEZ
The Englewood campus of Urban Prep is one of the charter's campuses where staff have voted to authorize a strike. Andrew Gill / WBEZ

Teachers At High Profile All-Boys Charter School In Chicago Authorize A Strike

Known for its 100% college acceptance rate among seniors, Urban Prep staff say they are underpaid and face poor working conditions.

Urban Prep, an all-boys charter school network in Chicago known for boasting of a 100% college acceptance rate among seniors, could find itself in the middle of a teacher strike soon.

Unionized teachers in the network’s three campuses voted unanimously to authorize a strike if they don’t reach an agreement with Urban Prep officials on issues including teacher salaries, health insurance benefits and more resources for students in the classrooms. They haven’t set a strike date yet.

The Urban Prep Union, which operates under the umbrella of the Chicago Teachers Union, also filed an unfair labor practice charge against management on Thursday. The CTU says operators at the charter school network have been dragging out contract negotiations for more than three years since their last contract expired in 2018.

Teachers at Urban Prep said salary increases haven’t kept pace with inflation and their wages aren’t competitive with many other schools.

“We can’t continue to live off these wages and we can’t continue to underserve our students.” said Dana Wilson is a 9th grade algebra teacher at Urban Prep’s Bronzeville campus. “We haven’t heard much from leadership as far as moving on the issues that we are presenting as dire needs.”

Urban Prep Academy officials said they had not received notification of a strike authorization vote, but said in a statement that “Urban Prep continues to believe there is progress to be made and remains committed to ongoing, good-faith negotiations.” They said the next negotiating session with an independent mediator is scheduled for the week of June 7.

Urban Prep, which currently enrolls about 650 students at its three campuses on the South and West sides, historically has been cited as a model on how to prepare Black students for college. But recently, Urban Prep has been criticized for its poor academic performance and declining enrollment.

Most recently in 2018, Chicago Public Schools recommended the closure of Urban Prep West and ended its contract for that campus, citing financial and academic concerns. The campus now operates under state oversight.

Wilson and other teachers, several of whom say they fear retaliation if they speak out, say other demands include more support for students with special needs and better working conditions.

“We work in the classroom where we have no heat,” Wilson said. “Sometimes we have to wear coats and hats.” He said there is a revolving door of teachers who many times don’t speak up out of fear of losing their jobs.

Union leaders accuse Urban Prep leaders of mismanagement, arguing the schools receive the same per pupil funding amount as other CPS schools. They also say the network received a federal Paycheck Protection Plan loan designed to help small businesses deal with the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Adriana Cardona-Maguigad covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @AdrianaCardMag.