Chicago Public Schools CEO 'implores' teachers and charter schools to hold off potential strike, cites at-risk students

2019-05-01 | Chicago Tribune

May 01-- May 1--Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson asked the city's teachers union and a group of privately run schools to protect student safety and forestall a potential labor strike this week, as educators approach a Wednesday deadline to settle contracts or halt classes for as many as 1,700 South and West side students.

Last month, staff affiliated with the Chicago Teachers Union voted to authorize strikes at five campuses: the Chicago High School for the Arts; two schools operated by the nonprofit Instituto del Progreso Latino; the Latino Youth High School; and the Youth Connection Leadership Academy.

The ongoing negotiations mark the latest in a rush of union-led resistance and labor strikes at charter schools since a group of educators merged with the CTU in 2018. CPS has offered few public statements on labor strife at the taxpayer-funded but independently operated campuses.

But in a Tuesday letter to CTU and school officials, Jackson said CPS was "very concerned" about a work stoppage at three campuses, citing "potentially lifesaving opportunities" the schools offer students who are more likely to have dropped out of a traditional high school or tangled with the criminal justice system.

Three students at the Youth Connection Leadership Academy in the Bronzeville neighborhood were killed by gun violence in the past year, charter officials said this week. The Latino Youth High School in Little Village and the Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy for 17- to 21-year-olds serve a similar at-risk population.

"Without access to a safe and supportive learning environment, CPS believes these students will be at increased risk of a range of potential negative outcomes," Jackson's letter said.

"For this reason, I implore all parties to continue negotiations in earnest and to put any potential work stoppage on hold for the foreseeable future."

In response to Jackson's letter, union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said: "What's clear and particularly cynical about post-Rahm Chicago is that his hand-picked bureaucrats are suddenly concerned with the traumas that plague the lives of the students who live in neighborhoods and attend school communities that have been disinvested in for generations."

Compensation, benefits and staffing are primary concerns as the CTU tries to standardize working conditions at the city's independently operated public schools to align more closely with those at traditional Chicago Public Schools.

Negotiations were set to continue through Wednesday afternoon. The CTU plans to rally supporters outside the ChiArts campus at 5 p.m, and has said arts school and Instituto educators were expected to strike.

A CTU spokeswoman said Latino Youth workers could also strike depending on how bargaining progressed on Tuesday and Wednesday. The union, however, said Youth Connection educators might stay at the bargaining table.

"A strike will be particularly devastating to YCLA because our school provides a critical safety net for some of Chicago's most at-risk young people," Leadership Academy Principal Lorraine Cruz said in a statement.

"The majority of our students are older than typical high schoolers, many have dropped out, and many come from the city's most violent neighborhoods and have been involved in or exposed to trauma or violence."

ChiArts executive Jose Ochoa said the school agreed to use spend $400,000 in reserve funds to pay for teacher salary increases, and limit special education teacher caseloads.

ChiArts is a "contract" school, a publicly funded and independently operated program with more flexibility than regular charter schools. Both sides disagree on whether the school must contribute to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund.

"If Rahm's leftover bureaucrats are really concerned about the safety and well-being of the nearly 400,000 students under their responsibility, then they would ensure that those children have access to special education services, social workers, school nurses, and libraries staffed with librarians," Davis Gates said.

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jjperez@chicagotribune.com