About 25,000 educators out of classrooms since Oct. 17
CHICAGO (Bloomberg) — The Chicago Teachers Union ended its longest strike since 1987, and members plan to return to classrooms on Friday after Mayor Lori Lightfoot agreed to make up five of the 11 school days missed during the walkout.
“This has been a very hard, difficult journey,” Lightfoot told reporters at City Hall after meeting Thursday with Jesse Sharkey, president of the union.
Chicago Public Schools and the union had reached a tentative agreement on Oct. 30, and the bargaining group’s House of Delegates voted to approve the deal. But the strike continued into an eleventh day as the union wanted the city to agree to make up all the instructional days lost during the strike, a demand Lightfoot rejected.
Roughly 25,000 educators and more than 350,000 students have been out of the classroom since Oct. 17. Union members still need to ratify the five-year contract that includes a 16-per-cent raise, “enforceable staffing increases” to assign social workers and nurses to every school over the next several years, and more money for recruitment and training. The deal also seeks to shrink over-sized classrooms and boost coaching stipends.
The length of the strike has been hard on parents, students and teachers, Sharkey told reporters after meeting with Lightfoot. He acknowledged the gains in the new contract and said the union is looking ahead.
“We are going to continue advocating for what’s right in the public schools in the city of Chicago,” Sharkey said. “We are going to continue asking the wealthy and powerful in the city to help support the work of educating working-class kids.”
The teachers went on strike after months of negotiations failed to produce a compromise on salary and working conditions in the third-largest U.S. school district. The union had been pushing the district and Lightfoot, a first-term mayor, for higher pay, more nurses and social workers, and more funding for broader social issues such as affordable housing. Sticking points this week included class sizes, teacher prep time and makeup days.
The tentative agreement also includes US$2.5 million in recruitment and training programs for clinicians, US$35 million annually to reduce over-sized classrooms and an increase of 33 per cent to an annual budget of US$5 million for coaching stipends as well as new equipment and resources, according to the union’s website.
During the negotiations, the union had argued that higher state funding and other resources should be funneled to the schools after they had endured years of cuts. The school board and Lightfoot had insisted the district had no additional money to spend after teetering on the brink of insolvency.
S&P Global Ratings is still “analyzing the tentative agreement,” analyst Blake Yocom said in an emailed statement Thursday.
“At this time, it is clear that the tentative agreement will significantly increase expenditures,” Yocom said. “Over the coming days, S&P will discuss with CPS management what structural budget changes they plan to implement to ensure they continue on a sustainable fiscal path.”
Chicago’s public school system, with an operating budget of about $6 billion, has been squeezed by mounting pension costs, leaving it with a junk credit rating that once prompted state Republicans to suggest it be allowed to file for bankruptcy.
The question remains how school districts like CPS can afford the growing needs of education when they are so dependent on local property taxes and in the case of Chicago, insufficient state aid, according to Michael Pagano, dean of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs.
“Cities need to rethink their fiscal architecture,” he said. “How do we pay for this?”