Chi-Arts contract school moved into the shuttered Lafayette building after Rahm closed the old school as part of the single largest closing of neighborhood public schools in the history of the United States.
I can still remember the sunny day in 2013 when hundreds of us – parents, students, teachers and others from the Humboldt Park neighborhood – gathered at 2714 West Augusta to protest the closing of Lafayette.
Some may still remember when Rousemary Vega staged an occupation of the school with her family trying desperately to save it.
We lost that fight and Lafayette was given to a contract operator to manage and it became Chi-Arts High School.
Like charter school teachers, contract school teachers were not covered by the CPS/CTU collective bargaining agreement.
However, as Chicago has become the national epicenter for organizing charter and contract school teachers, Chi-Arts teachers organized, joined the CTU and now may become the first contract school teachers in the country to strike.
This morning teachers at Chi-Arts will be holding a press conference to discuss the process of the collective bargaining.
It’s not going well.
In a statement from the Chicago Teachers Union, Chi-Arts teachers had this to say:
ChiArts teachers’ current base salaries are 35% less on average than they would be in CPS—and 54% less than in CPS schools when retirement and pension contributions are factored in—even though educators teach the same public school students and the school is funded by CPS at the same per pupil rate as district schools. Teachers receive less compensation for advanced degrees, and many teachers are forced to work multiple jobs just to cover classroom and living expenses.
Yet management has been flush with public dollars from CPS over the years. Besides annual education funding, CPS has forked over $40 million to refurbish ChiArts’ various locations—including $31 million in renovations at its current building, the former Lafayette Elementary, which Rahm Emanuel shuttered in 2013 over the passionate objections of parents.
Low wages drive high turnover that averages 20% per year at ChiArts, vastly higher than similar top tier, publicly funded selective enrollment schools like Payton, Whitney Young or Northside College Prep—undermining students, teachers and the school’s long-term success.
Educators are also demanding that class sizes be capped at 28, in the wake of class sizes that have been creeping higher consistently for the last three years.
Teachers also demanding adequate resources for those classrooms. Today, teachers are forced to pay for or independently fundraise for needs that range from books for English classes to supplies and equipment for science classes. One low-wage science teacher has spent $1,700 of his own funds this year alone for classroom supplies, and physical education teachers are personally funding upwards of 70% of curriculum and equipment costs.
Low wages have driven teacher shortages. For example, management has yet to hire a certified teacher to teach over a hundred students in AP and freshman biology; those classes instead are ‘taught’ via computer-based curricula that locks out other students from their past use of those computers. Management has also failed to hire in a certified special education substitute to replace a faculty member on medical leave, shortchanging special education students with IEPs for months. Two years ago, special ed students went without adequate staff for 91 days, and the issue got worse last year, when special education students went without adequate staff for 160 of 175 school days.
Teachers also charge that as bargaining has heated up, management hostility has intensified. Last month, ChiArts hired a second law firm (in addition to its labor counsel) to assist in efforts to avoid providing ChiArts teachers with a pension. Despite receiving the same per pupil funding from CPS as all charter and district-run schools, ChiArts makes no contributions to the teachers pension fund.