Teachers at three Chicago charter schools (Civitas' Ralph Ellison Campus, Northtown Academy and Wrightwood Campus) voted overwhelmingly to ratify their contract, according to this press release from Chicago ACTS, making them the first charter schools in the city to become unionized. Roughly 140 teachers and staff are included. Whether others will follow is anyone's guess. Union Park is likely to do so. Which of the aspirants to become CTU president will support the unionized charter movement and which will oppose it is another question. More important over the long term is the issue of whether unions and charters can work together to create something that works well for students and teachers, combining the best of both worlds. Will unionized charters blend stability and accountability in ways that are effective for kids and politically viable is all I care about.
Chicago's First Unionized Charter Schools Ratify First Contract
CHICAGO--Teachers and staff at three Civitas charter schools overwhelmingly ratified their first contract today, crediting a collaborative negotiations process for achieving the breakthrough agreement.
The three-year collective bargaining agreement at Civitas' Ralph Ellison Campus, Northtown Academy and Wrightwood Campus is the first of its kind for charter schools in Chicago. The Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS) is the union that represents nearly 140 teachers at the three schools.
"This contract puts students first, gives teachers a voice and a seat at the table, and makes parents and the community partners in education," said Emily Mueller, a high school Spanish teacher at Northtown Academy and chair of the negotiations.
"The negotiations were conducted expeditiously and thoughtfully because there was respect between the parties. Because both sides acted in good faith, students and teachers came out the clear winners," Mueller said.
When teachers at the three schools voted on June 18 to form a union, they said they wanted a voice in improving learning and working conditions at their schools.
"This contract is a great example of how charter schools can be incubators for innovative reforms and good labor-management practices," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "Civitas teachers are walking the education-reform walk by forging a new path for charter schools that value collaboration."
Ed Geppert Jr., president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and an AFT vice president, said, "Too often, charter schools are plagued with a revolving door because teachers don't have a voice in decisions that affect them and their students. This contract changes that by giving teachers a sense of trust and stability so they can focus on strengthening the quality of education."
Mueller added that since the union was formed in June, there has been a dramatic decrease in teacher turnover. "This sense of stability brings out the joy in teaching, which definitely has a positive impact on the students," she said.
The following are contract highlights:
- Curriculum and professional development: Teachers and administrators will jointly plan curriculum, professional development and the school calendar.
- Parent-community partnerships: Partnerships with parents, community groups, educators and administrators will be created.
- New teacher evaluation system: A new teacher evaluation system based on the well-respected Danielson evaluation system will be implemented.
- Strong due process: Following a teacher's first year, he or she will have due process rights based on "just cause" for discipline and discharge decisions. There also will be binding arbitration for grievances.
- Class size limits: To ensure that students receive the attention they deserve, class sizes will be capped at 29, with anything larger going to a teacher-administrator conference or arbitration to resolve.
- Salary and benefits: Teachers will receive raises ranging from 4.2 to 25.4 percent in the first year of the contract. Raises will range from 2.5 to 10.55 percent in the second and third years. Teachers also will be eligible for additional merit pay in years two and three. The employer-paid share of health, vision and dental insurance premiums will increase from 75 percent to 80 percent of the premium.
Chicago ACTS is a joint project of the American Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union. Chicago ACTS is an affiliate of the IFT.