September 10th, 2012
12:01 PM ET

What are key issues in Chicago public school strike?

Chicago public school teachers began manning picket lines instead of classrooms Monday, launching the first teacher strike in the city in 25 years.

The strike, announced Sunday night, left about 350,000 students without schools to attend and parents scrambling to find alternatives. The union that represents nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff in the nation's third-largest school district called the strike after negotiators failed to reach a contract agreement with school administrators despite 10 months of negotiations.

Below, we break down the key issues that are keeping the teachers out of the classroom, what the teachers are asking for and what the schools are willing to offer.

Compensation and health care benefits

One of the key issues is salaries and benefits for teachers and their families.

What the teachers want: to maintain their existing health benefits, as well as salary increases.

"Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation,"  the Chicago Teachers Union said in a news release. "However, we are apart on benefits."

What the Chicago Board of Education is offering: a deal that would increase salaries 16% over four years. The average teacher salary in Chicago was $74,839 for the 2011-12 school year, according to the district. The total salary increase would equal $380 million over four years. That includes "modified step increases that both reward experience and provides better incentives for mid-career teachers to help keep them serving in the Chicago Public School system," according to a news release from the school system.

"The Board is calling for a modification to the health care plan funding that will freeze all employee health care contributions for single and couple plans with a small increase in family contributions of no more than $20 a pay period in addition to a small increase in emergency room co-pays," the school system says. "67% of all CTU members will not see a change to their healthcare."

Job security

Another major issue is making sure teachers will know their jobs are safe amid the likely closing of several schools over the next couple years. Teacher issues center on what options will be available to them if they are laid off, as well as how they can be promoted.

What the teachers want: more teacher training and help for laid-off workers.

“We want job security. Despite a new curriculum and new, stringent evaluation system, CPS proposes no increase (or even decreases) in teacher training. This is notable because our Union through our Quest Center is at the forefront teacher professional development in Illinois," the union says. "We have been lauded by the District and our colleagues across the country for our extensive teacher training programs that helped emerging teachers strengthen their craft and increased the number of nationally board certified educators."

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The union notes that "while new Illinois law prohibits us from striking over the recall of laid-off teachers," it does not plan to sign an agreement until both sides discuss the issue and implement a plan.

What the Chicago Board of Education is offering: The board has announced plans and opportunities for laid-off workers but only a willingness to discuss opportunities for promotion.

The school system notes that it has addressed concerns about teachers displaced by school closings, turnarounds or phaseouts, and other reasons.

If a school is closed, Chicago Public Schools says, teachers will "receive a job at a school receiving their students if there is a vacancy; placed in a reassigned teacher pool for five months or may elect to receive a three-month lump sum severance; or placed in a Quality Teacher Force Pool in which teachers who apply for positions shall be entitled to an interview and explanation if not hired."

If a teacher is displaced by turnarounds or phaseouts, they will be "placed in a reassigned teacher pool for five months or may elect three-month lump sum severance." Teachers displaced for other reasons will "have recall rights for one year for the same unit and position and will be offered interim assignment in substitute teacher pool."

As for moving up within the system, the Board of Education says the union should work with it "to increase promotion opportunities and identify differentiated compensation models that have worked in other places."

New teacher evaluation system

As many as 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs under a new evaluation system based on standardized test scores implemented by the school district, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said. Statistics from the Chicago Public School District and the state show that Chicago children perform poorly compared with the rest of students, with 10% to 20% more students not meeting the goals compared with rest of the state in reading, math and science during the 2010-11 school year.

What the teachers want: a change to the new evaluation system for teachers.

Lewis called the new system "unacceptable," saying that too much emphasis is being placed on testing scores.

"This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control," the union said in its news release.

What the Chicago Board of Education is offering: to help get the new system in place and reach required standards.

"The Board has proposed to work jointly with CTU to fully implement REACH Students and maintain performance standards and student growth requirements," it said in its release. "This proposal will also allow CPS and CTU to study REACH’s implementation jointly and make adjustments as needed."

Opinion: U.S. needs more strikes

My view: The whole world is watching Chicago

soundoff (500 Responses)
  1. corinne

    I am disgusted. Stop all the complaining , teachers of Chicago , you have jobs, when millions under this president, dont have them or are under employed. Teachers union , I only wish my healthcare benefits were going up $20.00 per pay period and that I had my summers off! Everyone around this issue – it is about the children .....all of you , get back at it and get this job done and get back to work , you are imposing upon 100,000's of thousands of children and their families.

    September 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Johnny Luck

    We need to get rid of the federal standards all together. We need each state to deal with their own education. They would have an interest in doing well versus other states as poor school performance would lead to less employers locating there as people want to live and work where their children will have good education.

    We also need to learn that we cannot compete globally with the inclusion model. I am sorry, but we need to quit with the having classes that are diverse based on readiness level. Diversity is great, but not along those lines. We should test children at the end of each year and then place them in classrooms designed to teach a particular subject at their readiness level. This equeates to all smart math children being in a class for them, that is not being hindered children much too far behind. This should be at all levels, not just later (mid and high) schools.

    When I was teaching we too frequently had children that required so much time you had to really jump hurdles to come up with lesson plans that had work and practice for about 5 different groupings of kids. This is not really an efficient model of teaching. I know some people would say that people would never want to teach the lower readiness levels, but that is simply not true. Look how many people are dedicated to helping just the special needs, etc. We could manage a much more streamlined system. And as far as the idealists who think that inclusion is good for social development of some of the lower functioning children, I am sorry but school is for educating, not socialising or social development as much. We cannot make school be a solution to all of our ills, but it at least should be performing its function.

    September 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Don Todrin

    fire them all, cut their pay take away collective bargaining and balance the school budget. What right does the administration have to offer a 16% raise when you are one billion in the red every year for three more years, This is the hight of irresponsibility. How dare the unions resist evaluations. and enough with benefits that we cannot afford. Fire them and replace them with people who appreciate their job.

    September 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |

    GET RID OF ALL THESE DANG UNIONS ! Then this crap will stop ! Are you kidding me go on strike because they want more pay and health benefits ! Dont we all want a raise and great benefits – hey how about even a job – all those teachers are a bunch of greedy losers !!!!! Oh itsa about the kids huh ! NOT – it all comes down to $$$$$$$$$$$.
    Get back to work and you all shouldnt get another raise for another 5 years ! Like the rest of the country – just be happy to have a job !

    September 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JS

    You are ruining your respected career. How can you be a good teacher who leave the kids nowhere and are on the streets to ask for more. All the people in the country are suffering, but we try to make sure our kids are not. A parent from another state.

    September 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mark L

    I read an article that pointed out that 71% of the education speding in Chicago is going to fund the Teacher's Retirement System. That's not even including salaries and classroom spending. This union needs to be busted hard. No city can afford that.

    September 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Gold Finger

    Reminds me of teaching in certain DFW suburbs. You can teach there, but there is no way you can afford to live there.

    September 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Gold Finger

    This is what it boils down too. Everyone wants their child to have an education. No one wants to pay for it. It cost a lot of money to get that degree to teach. So teachers need the pay to pay their costs. Should you benefit at the cost of others? No. Pay a fair wage for what you are getting.

    September 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Teddy B

      These teacher earn average 70k in 9 months and their kids score among the lowest school districts. This showing people why union is bad for America.

      September 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      What do you mean no one pays for it?? Seriously? Do a search for a tax bill breakdown and report back on what organization has roughly 50% of it. Everyone pays, one way or another, for schools even when they don't have children or their children are grown.

      I'm not 100% sure about this but I think even gambling is tied to giving money to schools – I haven't confirmed that though.

      September 11, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Grateful person

    These teachers could care less about the kids. These kids are the ones losing out. You teachers make $74,000 dollars and get benefits, wow what a gig. Sign me up. I work 4, 24 hour shifts a WEEK as an EMT in LA County and make $8.55 an hour. I do it because I care about my community. I thought teachers were in it for the same reasons. $75,000 a year is plenty enough to pay for an emergency room visit. You guys need to reach an agreement. This is the reason why Americans are losing patience with unions. If you think your going to get sympathy from the rest of the country by going to the media for coverage, you are WRONG. I couldnt believe what I just read about the teachers complaining about the testing results. Chicago is worse than the rest of the state, but that somehow shouldn't matter? The testing should somehow be manipulated so you guys can look better. I pray for the parents who are losing money because they need to find baby sitters or stay home from work. Them and the kids are the real issue at stake here. Not your greed. Get a new profession if you want more.

    September 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maddy Gascar

      I don't believe one word of your fairytale. Not one word.

      September 11, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • SkepticalOne

      If you are really making $8.55 an hour as an EMT then I pity the people that you are working on because you are not real bright.

      September 11, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • AW

      You misunderstood, that salary quote includes ALL benefits. It's gross not not net pay. It is not their take home pay. In addition almost all CPS teacher have advanced degrees. Also, I've been told, for what it's worth, by several teachers that it is a wildly inaccurate number. You're opening sentence is curious, just because teachers need to take care of themselves doesn't mean they don't care about children. As an EMT does it mean you don't care about the person you're trying to save if you worry about your own life first? Isn't that part of your training?

      September 11, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Truth be told

    Look at all of those good "Democrat" teachers protesting. I guess it isn't really "for the children" after all, is it. Like the teachers tell me, every time they want a new levy on my property tax. Suck it up, it is for the children.

    September 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maddy Gascar

      Uh huh. ALL teachers are democrats, whether they want to be or not. In fact, all college students who want to be teachers are forced to switch political affiliation. When they graduate, and are being certified for teaching, they are forced to sign and take "The Democratic Oath." Sure, okay.

      September 11, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Common_sense

      Every company lives within a budget and so should the schools,these are not endless pit of taxes they can draw from.
      They need to pay for their Retirement and health care like we all do. We pay for ourselves and theirs in our taxes.
      Really? maybe the unions should not draw a fee, have they reduced those.....
      they should use the fee to pay for what they think is health care....and not for re electing officials...

      September 11, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. aspam99

    16% increase over 4 yrs...Whaaaaaaa. Ask the millions out of work if its ok. A small increase in benefit costs. How about sacrificing a littl of the $3000 per yr increase (4% of 74K) to pay a little more. Stop your whining and get back to work. You are selfish. USA Today indicated that 74K is well above the national average. Clueless in Chicago.

    September 11, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • MassDad

      Yup. All public teachers should go. We should privatize this also. Yup. So, only those parents that can afford the $17,000 to $50,000 per year PER kid for private school should be able to have schooling for their kids. This way we can not have to deal with those evil public school teachers..... Sigh...

      September 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Common_sense

      They are clueless like the do you guarantee these kind of wages....
      tell the millions out of work to take their place and they will do a better job.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. fo reel

    This ain't about teaching – It's about leeching. They want to be taken care of even if they are not needed (laid off) above and beyond what others get when laid off. They don't want to be evaluated because evaluation is meaningless and unfair – really? Really?

    September 11, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • AW

      The democrap mayor of Chicago want's to switch to a charter school system were teachers with advanced degrees make high 20k low 30k salaries with little or no benefits. The union is fighting layoffs in order to stop the charter school conversion.

      September 11, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Lahdee Dah

    Let's apply the same standards of accountability to private sector service people – that way it will be fair for everyone. For example, if a doctor tells a patient that he needs to change his eating habits and exercise, but the patient doesn't take the advice and develops diabetes, then the doctor should be held accountable and have his fee payments reduced. All of us pay higher insurance premiums for this patient's poor choices. The same should go for a dentist if he tells patients to brush and floss, but they don't, and wind up losing their teeth or worse. Accountability for all professional service providers is definitely the way to go!

    September 11, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Common Sense

    So wha happens now, Union teachers providing the same old education that they learnt 60 years ago, but no evaluation.. and a guaranteed raise..
    So how do you work harder or get ahead, where is the motivation.
    Is this what Obama learnt in school...and is this how he thinks GM will be funded and taken forward.
    Oh sorry the Volt is already loosing money...never mind the next recession GM will be history..

    September 11, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Common_sense

    So what can they do now...oh give the teachers 40% raise they do not deserve and raise our taxes...
    oh we pay for the unions and they go and spend our money to make sure they keep what they want...where do the kids and the parents stand where as they strike to get what they want without wondering what is going to happen to the kids who they have neglected..
    Have no sympathy for unions..

    September 11, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
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