Chicago has narrowly averted another teachers’ strike.
In the early hours of Wednesday, teachers and management at one of the UNO Charter School Network—one of the largest charter school operators in the city—reached a tentative agreement, preventing a teachers strike that would have put about 8,000 students out of class.
“We’re really happy,” said Erica Stewart, a fifth grade teacher at UNO’s Cisneros school and a member of the bargaining team for the United Educators at UNO, the union representing teachers. “All of that benefits our students, our teachers. We were really proud of the job we did. Send your kids to school!”
If an agreement had not been reached, a strike would have marked the first time teachers at a publicly funded, privately managed charter anywhere in the country would have walked off the job. Some the the big sticking points between teachers and management were how much teachers contribute to their retirements and what support staff—like teachers’ aides—are paid.
Contract talks on Tuesday between the union and management took place all night at the Esmeralda Santiago campus.
Richard Rodriguez, the CEO of the charter network, said in a statement that about $1.5 million is still needed to finalize a contract with the union. He said despite that shortfall, both sides agreed to keep schools open as they find additional sources of revenue. One option could be money from the city’s tax increment financing fund, or TIF, that is set aside for economic development. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has used those funds to help plug budget gaps at the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools. The UNO Charter School Network said in a statement that it wants to know if CPS will share those TIF dollars to charter schools.
The UNO Charter School Network oversees 15 schools and employs 500 teachers. The charter network two years ago split with the United Neighborhood Organization, which had deep ties to city hall. It’s former leader, Juan Rangel, served as co-chairman of Emanuel’s first campaign for mayor in 2011.
Charter schools were created in the 1990s, with the support of then-president of the American Federation of Teachers Albert Shanker, as a way to try out new ways of educating students free of the red tape and bureaucracy associated with large school districts.
Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said it would have been unfortunate if UNO teachers went on strike.
“The charter movement in many ways in the city has led in extending the school day, extending the school year so the prospect of having charter school students not in class is not one that we welcome,” Broy said.
Broy also took issue with the involvement of the Chicago Teachers Union in the negotiations between the charter network and UEU. The UEU is one of several councils that make up ChiACTS, Local 4343. ChiACTS belongs to the same parent union as CTU and recently contracted with CTU for extra support during bargaining.
“In many ways I think this is a Trojan horse for the CTU to try to get inside the network and try to disrupt the schools as another way of trying to stop charter growth in the city,” Broy said.
Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @wbezeducation.