Catastrophe Or Opportunity? Chicago's First Unionized Charter School Contract

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.  


Leave a comment
  • Retired Principal said: Congratulations!

  • In what universe could two parties entering into a contract they both really like ever be considered a 'catastrophe'? Your post contains no information to suggest it could be, so your question doesn't make any sense.

  • dear northtown --
    it's too early to tell what's really going to happen, but there are lots of reasons to be concerned about this or any other union-charter collaboration:

    the contract could undercut the regular contract...
    the teachers (or the school) could hate the new contract...
    the school could become less effective...

  • fantastic News! Hope more teachers at charters get these rights.
    here is why:
    delacruz scores up=CPS closed the school in June
    meets/exceeds all catagories
    2007-2008 54.3%
    2008-2009 61.1%

  • The "regular" contract? What is that? There is no "regular" contract -- there's only the contract between our union and Civitas.

    It's weird that you suggest the teachers or the school could hate the new contract when the evidence suggests exactly the opposite. 92% of the ballots cast this morning were in favor of it. Does that sound like hate to you? And Civitas has been going around for days talking about how much they like the new contract -- which they had an equal role in creating. You obviously didn't bother to ask them what they thought before you wrote they "could" hate it. But don't you think you should have?

    Finally, it doesn't make any sense to suggest that the school could become less effective. Is there, anywhere, a proven link between union contracts an ineffective schools? Not that I've ever heard. It makes about as much sense for you to say the contract could cause monsters to come out of the sewers and eat the students.

    Your negative spin on professional educators having a formal voice in the decisions at their schools is really confusing to me. What's it really about?


  • dear northtown -- hold up a minute, i think you're taking offense too quickly. maybe you're new to this blog and don't know that i am prone to hyperbole and more important that i've posted several times about the charter union issue (you guys, plus KIPP AMP plus accelerrated schools in LA) in a generally curious, positive light. plug union charter hybrid into the search box and you'll see.

    i don't think charter unions are going to solve all the world's problems, and i know that from hard-core charter and union perspectives they create lots of difficulties, but i'm not as negative as it may seem upon first reading. or maybe it's just been a long week.

    ps -- the regular contract is the one that affects the vast majority of teachers in this city, whose leaders may or may not be looking at the civitas and union park and green dot contracts for ideas next time around.


  • I'm not really taking offense, and I have read this blog quite a bit in the past (though not much since it moved from Catalyst), but it was frustrating to see your response to my post raise possibilities for which there is zero evidence and were just generally negative. I'll assume best intentions, but what you wrote didn't strike me as hyperbole; it struck me as run-of-the-mill, knee-jerk anti-union bullshit.

    I also don't think charter unions are going to solve all the world's problems either (does anybody?), but I do know they'll make charter schools better by bringing them democracy.

    Thank you for telling me what you meant by "the regular contract." (It would be more clear if you referred to it as "the CTU contract" or something.) As for how our contract will affect it, I don't know -- we don't have anything to do with their contract. It certainly won't undermine it, so your suggestion that it could was unfounded. If anything, the parallel workforce of teachers created by charter schools being represented by unions can only strengthen CTU's bargaining position.

    Sorry I got irritated before, but I couldn't understand how you could say these things "could" happen in the complete absence of evidence pointing to those outcomes. I mean, why couldn't your list of "coulds" be only positive? After all, the evidence for that is equally as strong.

    Finally, thank you for providing this cool forum to discuss education in Chicago. Take care.

  • Retired Principal said: It's not a CTU contract, it's a CTU Agreement!

  • Dear RP: It is the Agreement between the Board and the CTU.

  • As a member of the Chicago Teachers Union, I can tell you that I am thrilled that Civitas has Unionized. The fact that Civitas teachers, by law, can not join the Chicago Teachers Union is a shame, (and a pretty obvious attempt at "dividing and conquering" workers) but it is great, nonetheless that Civitas teachers now have a place at the table that is a collective powerful group voice. If there are any Civitas teachers or negotiators out there who would like to get a full look at the CTU contract, it is available for download on the CTU website . Our contract might be a good starting point for Civitas workers to look when they begin negotiating their next contract. There is no question that stability is the key to any quality learning environment. Since most charter school teachers leave after a few years, a quality agreement and a strong union presence will help such schools keep their workers. Again, I would have prefered Civitas workers to be CTU members, but until the law is changed, their unionization is the next best option. Congratulations to the teachers at Civitas. I am happy for them, and hope, down the road, that the CTU and their newly formed Union can find a great amount of common ground.

    Finally, as the newly elected Teacher Pension Trustee, I want to remind certified Civitas teachers (and other certified charter school teachers) that they pay into the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, and as a consequence, I am one of 6 trustees on the Fund who represent their interests. I'd be happy to come out to their schools and talk pension issues at any time.

  • Jay you are a hero. No CTU pension tustee had readhed out to us like this. Thank you. You will hear from us soon.

  • I'm just curious, is there something that would prevent the CTU from creating a charter school? Or perhaps a designate of the CTU?

  • In reply to WisdomSeed:

    The reason I am asking this is because there is always, well it at least there seems to be, a great amount of tension between teachers and administrators. If cooperative industrialism saved the people of Mondragon, then can that same ideology be put forth as a workable solution to education in Chicago.

  • In reply to WisdomSeed:

    Out with Marilyn and her goons! Dictatorships are evil! Good to hear teachers asking for a change in general.

Leave a comment