Charter School Teachers Vote to Authorize Strike

Several hundred Chicago charter school teachers say they’re willing to walk off the job if they can’t reach a contract agreement with their charter operator, Acero.

The union representing those teachers, the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, or ChiACTS, announced the results of the strike authorization vote Tuesday evening: 96 percent member turnout, with 98 percent voting to authorize a strike.

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The vote affects all 15 of the Acero – formerly UNO – charter schools. That’s about 500 teachers, and 8,000 students.

The ChiACTS union is represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, which says it’s been negotiating with the charter operator for the last six months and isn’t getting very far. The union says it hasn’t yet reached the point of setting a strike date, but it will if negotiations fall apart completely.

One of the biggest grievances is pay. The union calls charter operators bloated bureaucracies that spend most of their district funding on management.

To compare the Acero contract to the CTU contract:

A first-year Acero teacher earns just over $50,000 to $51,000 this year, compared to $56,000 for a first-year CTU teacher working the same number of days.

But a first-year CTU teacher with a master’s degree earns $60,000; that increase is called a lane, and with every degree or certification, the base salary increases a bit more.

ChiACTS says Acero teachers only receive a $2,000 base pay increase for a master’s – and they eventually max out at $100,000 per year. But CTU teachers who keep advancing their education can keep earning more on top of their base pay, beyond six figures annually. The union argues that because charter schools receive more funding, their teachers should be receiving commensurate pay.

“We noticed that charter schools get additional funding from CPS,” said CPS Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “They get 8 percent more. And so we’re saying start with parity. Start with CPS pay scale, and then add 8 percent for the additional funding.”

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools, a nonprofit that advocates for charters in the state, is critical of the Chicago Teachers Union for representing charter teachers, because the union has been so critical of charters themselves.

Director Andrew Broy thinks the union is trying make a political issue out of charter schools versus district-run schools. And while he does agree that charter teachers should earn a better salary, he thinks negotiating it into the teachers’ contract with the charter operator is the wrong way to achieve that goal.

“The solution is by getting charters access to additional resources, not CTU’s proposed solution, which is more collective bargaining contracts and forcing the hand of charters,” Broy said.

Broy also makes the case that charters schools actually receive 14 percent less than district-run schools – once the cost of facilities is factored in – not 8 percent more as the union is arguing.

Last week, Acero CEO Richard Rodriguez made the case to his board that the average Acero teacher salary increased by 6.7 percent from 2016 to 2018, from $60,500 to just over $65,000.

While he acknowledges that is less than the average CPS teacher salary, he argues the charter operator doesn’t have the full faith of the city of Chicago’s budget as a backup.

Teachers from another charter operator, Chicago International Charter School, are taking a separate strike vote Friday. Of the 15 CICS schools, only four are unionized.

It’s worth noting that if any these teachers do strike, it’ll be the first strike of charter school teachers in the nation.

Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter @BrandisFriedman

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