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. adam

    wow, that teachers' rep can't even speak proper english. yeah, sounds like she and the rest of her bunch are worth $75k+per year...

    September 10, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Scott B

    This is an example of a union going way too far. It's this ridiculousness that gives all of them a bad name. 16% raise over 4 years...that's much better than most in private work will get. Freeze on healthcare rates? LOL Worried about what happens when you get laid off? Join the rest of us. Complaining about an evaluation system? I get the complaints here, but it's really for a school board to determine and shouldn't be decided by a teachers' union. To me, it seems like they are using OK arguments to hide the fact they don't want to be held more accountable.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. efavorite

    It's easy enough to check to see that merit pay and tying teachers' evaluation to student test scores doesn't work. It's been tried in DC and other places and it has never worked.

    It's time to ask our public officials ,why they are insisting on policies for our children that are known not to work?

    September 10, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      It was time to start that 30 years ago, instead of just throwing more money at it. Not sure it's something best handled by a union dispute though.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. cam

    If I have to pay more in taxes to support their salaries then I expect better performance from the teachers. The stats are just awful that I need to consider leaving chicago for the sake of my children.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      The stats will always be worse for large cities than elsewhere. There are usually more schools in larger cities with poorer kids and parents that care less.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • dude

      agreed, I support unions, but there is a time a place. Now is not the time to overreach and ask for more than the majority of taxpayers live off. You just add to the GOP circus and get people voting the wrong way.

      September 10, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Tom

    Mitt? Is that you?

    September 10, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Keon

    Teachers are unappreciated. They provide at significant impact in a child's life. There are good teachers and there are poor teachers just like every other profession. We will truly see how valuable they are in the next couple of days whether you agree or not.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott B

      $75K plus benefits, on average, for ten months of work, sounds like a lot of appreciation to me.

      September 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spence

      Scott B – exactly! And don't forget they receive 70% of their pay in pension when they "retire". I put "retire" in quotes, because a teacher can "retire" from one school district and go back to work in another school district while still milking the penion from their previous job. Imagine making 70% of $75,000 AND being able to collect another paycheck at the same time. What's even better than that? They don't have to contribute to the pension plan. It is a 100% free perk. Watch out, though, if you ask them to contribute something to this retirement plan or ask them to make a marginally higher patments towards their health care plan! Or ask them to be graded on their job performance so that the bad teachers can be weeded out and the good ones rewarded. That's blasphemy!

      September 10, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • mikaman3000

      79% of Chicago 8th graders are not proficient in Reading and 80% are not proficient in Math........yet they want to go on strike and one of the main reasons is job security and disagreements about the proposed evaluation process....These are the #'s from the Department of Education
      So I agree w/ you on one thing Keon, they are definitely having a big impact on children's lives.

      September 10, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wondering

      Scott B....starting salary is $47,250 and 50,250 for a masters. Stop throwing around $75K....those are teachers that have been teaching for over 15 years. Like every other profession, you get paid more as you get more seasoned.

      Spence...are there no other professions where you can retire and continue to work in your field? They don't get paid the same money if they go back. Most school districts will only give you 9 years’ experience on the pay scale if you switch districts/states/systems. And they do have to pay into SS and retirement. Many retires that I know in the private sector retire and then become "speakers" or "trainers" at more than they made before they retired.

      Mikaman300.... do you think that these students aren't achieving because the teachers sit in the class and refuse to show them what they need to know for the test? Do some deeper research and see why those children can't/WON'T be proficient in math and reading. Do you think mom and dad are instilling in them the importance of education? Whipping their hind ends when they don't do their homework, get in trouble in school, talk back/cuss to/at a teacher, get suspended, score low in ANY class, as well as a whole lot of other events that go on daily in public schools across the country?

      Geese guys don't respond on with emotions if you don't fully understand the content and scope of what's going on.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Thank you, Wondering, for a great post.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • solaceman

      I think they are very much appreciated. However, way the system is going is not ( 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.) Current salaries are way our of disproportion and the deal being offered, is way out of control.

      September 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jon

    Keep the Unions ... but do not allow them to use any of the money they recieve in politics ... or any campaign. Allow their members not to join if they do not want to ...

    September 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • zandhcats

      Keep your suggestion to the rich and big corps as well, not only to unions. In today's news: 95% donors give <$250 to Obama, while only 2% small donors to Romney, his major financial supporters are from the super rich and mega corps..

      September 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Spence

    So let me get this straight. Teachers are being offered a 16% raise over 4 years... roughly an addition $12,000 a year. In exchange, the school board wants them to contribute an extra $20/mo in medical costs... roughly $250 a year. Sounds like a sweetheart deal to me, so it must not be about the money. It must be about job security and their desire to keep their jobs no matter how poorly they perform. Great. So here's a thought. Tell the teachers they can one or the other. Allow the school board to fire the bad teachers and give the good teachers a 16% raise OR let all the crappy teachers keep their jobs but no pay raise for anyone. At some point, I would think the good teachers would get sick and tired of crappy teachers costing them cash and go teach at private schools. That means that only crappy teachers would be teaching at public schools. Which means crappy education for kids whose parents can't afford public school. Oh wait, that's pretty much what IS happening. So if I was a taxpayer, I would tell my politicians to vote for a voucher system. That way I could send my kids to whatever school district I wanted, public or private. Eventually, the crappy schools and the crappy teachers would be out of work, while all kids got a good education. Of course, the teacher's union will NEVER SUPPORT this scenario, because the teacher's union only represents CRAPPY teachers. All the good teachers are at private schools.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • zandhcats

      How did you come out $12,000/yr from the raise? Only if they make $300,000/yr, did they? I think their salaries range is from $51,000-$70,000, google it.

      September 10, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • PeteB

      Spence, The Congressional Budget Office has predicted a COLA of 1.3 percent for 2013. Everyone should have a hugh problem with these teachers getting offered a 4% ($3000) yearly raise and complaining about it and subsequently turning down the offer. They are putting their personal financial greed before and above the education of the students. Currently the United States is ranked academicly 17th in the world in science and 23rd in the world in mathematics. When our students are ranked in the top 5 in these catagories in the world then we should consider 4% pay raises. All these teachers unions are doing is condoning, encouraging and supporting an incompetent educational system. Just let a teacher get a couple of years tenure and the taxpayers are stuck with providing them a free ride regardless of their professionalism and quality of work. Let them be evaluated as employees just as people in the private sector are. Base their pay raises and promotions on the quality and merit of their work. Let them contribute 3 or 4 % of their pay towards their own retirement, the private sector does.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cici

      Spence is right that it would 12000, but didn't divide that by 4.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wondering

      This is great. Let's take a different look at this. If you're a manager and you have an employee who is a poor worker and his employment is detrimental to you in the sense that the district manager doesn't like your numbers. What do you do? Fire the poor employee right. Well, teachers can't fire students....no matter how bad they are.

      How about this, if your child doesn't pass the state test with a proficient, you as the parents will have to pay more in taxes. Bad teachers? Agreed, get rid of them, but keep in mind the first paragraph written here.....is it a bad manager or a bad employee?

      September 10, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. In the Middle

    Actually, it is not 4% annually. It is 3%, 2%, 2% and 2%. It amounts to 16% if they reach certain performance criteria, pursue higher level of educations or are a CPS teacher longer.

    September 10, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Frank

    Mark,
    Word from CNN is the Average Salary for a teacher in Chicago 75K a year,if any one person/family can not live on 75K a year there is a real problem out there, 75 over 12 months is $6,250. a month,are you telling me someone/family can not live well on that kind of money a month,even after taxes, anyone should have no real problem unless they in debt over their eyeballs, then who's fault is that?

    September 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralph M

      Obviously, bad teachers. If they can't do math they deserve what they get.

      September 10, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marcz

      Two bachelors and a masters degree plus working in the district for 10+ years doesn't even get you $75K per year. The author is very wrong about this, I feel at least in the Chicago area. And they're not arguing about the pay, they're arguing about health care, not that this blog post really goes into it.

      And I read a comment about "real working class" people not having the luxury to go on strike. Let me remind you all, that teachers DO work and they take their jobs home with them and suffer through it during the hard times just like everyone else. And when they go on strike, they also lose their wages. They're definitely not getting paid to protest against their employers. They're responsible for teaching the future and appreciation and understanding for what they're dealing with can go a long way.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JoHann

    We should look to our neighbors to the north in Wisconsin, in how they solved this problem.

    Adding another $400M to an existing deficit is not the answer, just pushing it off into the future. 16% raises, no evaluation, no performance measures? The CTU should have taken that offer and stayed below the radar.

    And Ms. Lewis should be aware that evaluation systems have been in use in the real world for decades. They do exist.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ralph M

    The only teachers who are afraid of merit pay raises are the substandard ones. They should be canned.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JoHann

    In addition to the union gluttony, take a look at some of the administrator pensions, such as Neil C. Codell, who has a $26M+ pension.

    Not the brightest bunch, going on strike in the middle of a poor economy, when the real working class folks are struggling.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Chandler

    Even the best teacher can only do so much when a child has little parental guidance, exposure to gang violence in their community, and extreme poverty. I don't think the teachers should be held soley accountable for grades, when the child's home environment has such a greater impact.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mikaman3000

    79% of Chicago 8th graders are not proficient in Reading and 80% are not proficient in Math........yet their teachers want to go on strike and one of the main reasons is job security and disagreements over the proposed evaluation process. What a frickin joke.......This must be the Chicago values that Rahm was talking about

    September 10, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
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