Subs lacking in CPS elementary schools and some suggestions for what to do about it ... Board cuts substitute teacher services across Chicago

Situation: There is and has been for quite some time a lack of substitute teachers being sent to cover absent teachers in CPS elementary schools. Those running the public schools, legislatively-directed from Springfield to be controlled by the mayor in Chicago, are horrifically delinquent in yet another one of the most basic responsibilities of which they are entrusted to uphold by the taxpaying public. I have heard from other delegates across the city whose schools are facing the same situation; the focus here is on the elementary schools, because that is the situation with which I am most familiar and have heard the most about from other delegates and union members. The situation has previously been reported here in Substance. (See "Substitute teacher shortage hurting the kids Who is teaching the kids?" by Kati Gibson, October 2012.)


If you are a delegate, or a CTU member who has complained in some way about the sub situation, you have probably heard these words spoken from people working in your union. Here's the main issue and/or question surrounding why filing a grievance is probably not being done at the local school levels as expected: How? It is actually quite a complicated mess to try to sort out at any one local level. And then, why should anyone? Judging by the scope of the problem, one might assume that city-wide information has been compiled and the situation is being handled whole-heartedly by the CTU Grievance Department.

To my knowledge and experience, however, that is not the case. So, for what it's worth, below is a descriptive and instructive report on how one person, as a delegate of one thusly abused and neglected school, has gone about attempting to do something, such as file a grievance as well as write this up for Substance, about the lack of subs out in the schools. Note: I did not quite do as advised by those chiming, "File a grievance." The advice given was mostly to file individual grievances, asking in resolution for extra prep periods and/or individually calculated pay differentials, for which to my mind the character Charlie from the should-not-have-been-canceled TV show Numbers would have had to have been consulted.

A grievance needs basically three parts: one, info on who is filing the grievance and a citation of the relevant contract sections for the grievance; two, documentation of the problem(s); and three, the resolution(s) sought.

FOR A SUGGESTED SUB GRIEVANCE, STEP 1: The relevant parts from the 2012-2015 Agreement between the Board of Education of the City of Chicago and the Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO that I could determine for a lack of subs being sent out to the schools are as follows: Article 27 and its many subsections for Class Coverage; Article 44, Section 35 for bilingual substitutes, if applicable; and the stated intentions from the Preamble, which include something about common responsibility to maintain a collaborative and collegial collective bargaining relationship that furthers the parties shared goal of delivering high quality instructional programs and significantly advancing a well-rounded public education for the students of the Chicago public school system.

ADDED SUGGESTION FOR THE SUGGESTED SUB GRIEVANCE, STEP 1: Share the outrageous information gathered (see below), and create a petition-type document for any and preferably all CTU members in the school to sign-on in agreement that the grievance is to be filed school-wide and is to be directed at the mayor's Board of Education, with Sub Center in particular. The data accumulated (re: the number of subs not sent for the number and variety of classroom situations negatively impacted in the school) demand that this be recognized as a school-wide not individual grievance situation and/but not against the local school administration. Principals have not the power to hire and manage the daily placements of substitute teachers; that power is entrusted to the Board of Education. Principals do what they can to attempt to have the school function for the present, sub-less, longer school days (LSDs). Due to the lack of subs, schools (infer: including the students) are expected on an almost daily basis to operate on a mode button of contingency and emergency and crisis. Attach the signature listing to the grievance information being sent to CTU to try to attempt to get a minimum of attention from the CTU Grievance Department for the writing of an official grievance.

FOR THE SUGGESTED SUB GRIEVANCE, STEP 2, PART 1: Document when subs have not been sent out to the school. Make a listing of the dates and whose class(es) was(were) not covered. This information is available in the office of your school and should be made readily available re: 2012-2015 Agreement Article 3, Section 3-3 access to and copies of all existing and available documents that are relevant to the allegations in the grievance. You can try to find out exactly how any given class was covered, but this is easier said than done and not really necessary for the way I recommend to have the grievance generally filed.

Some background information for those who do not work in the city's public schools: When a teacher is absent, s/he is instructed to call Sub Center.” Especially as of late, the school secretary usually calls Sub Center even after the teacher has already called, trying in mostly futile attempts to get subs when subs as requested have not been sent out to the school. Teachers generally need one or a few days of sub coverage for their classrooms (read: students) for the following reasons: illness, personal business, religious observance, or for professional development. When the teacher calls Sub Center, s/he is taken through a quick menu via the computerized options of identifying oneself as an employee, selecting the reason for the absence, then receiving a confirmation number for the reported absence.

And that should be that, with contractual days of absence shown subtracted on the teacher's next check. In past school years, up until approximately the last quarter of the last 2011-2012 school year, subs have generally been sent out as requested. However, since the end of the last school year, this has not been the case.

When a teacher is absent, s/he is required to have plans available for the sub. This may be from a One-Day Sub Plan folder or materials made available; a continuum of what was already planned for the day, ready on the desk or phoned/e-mailed in; altered (read: sub-do-able) plans for the day (for example, a teacher probably does not want the sub to start a new unit of study, cover something very important, or have to take out a lot of equipment, supplies, etc.); or for an emergency situation, the office should have available a set of 3-day emergency plans (from each teacher) that can be utilized. But presently, all of that teacher (and administrator/office) required preparation is basically thrown on the side along with other (and greater) professional respect that occurs when no subs are being sent out to the schools.

For one to-remain-anonymous elementary school, as of November 9, 2012, Sub Center did not send requested subs out to the school approximately 30 times. This date was at just past the first quarter mark of approximately 40 days. (Note: The situation has not improved but continues as of the writing of this report.)

Leading up to and during the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012, the following back-and-forth banter was heard:

Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago: We need a longer school day, urrr, I mean, fuller school day. (Note: the acronym-makers and damage-control agents quickly tried to change LSD to FSD.)

Karen Lewis, CTU's president: We advocate for a better school day.

Repeat the above ad nauseum. (In fact, up until the Saturday, December 29, 2012 Chicago Tribune, the mayor who runs the public schools in Chicago is mentioned still proudly referring to his self-proclaimed genius implementation of a lengthened public school day, in this case as part of his plan to try to put a halt to Chicago's ongoing, national, record-breaking-by-comparisons, homicide rate.)

Well, the jury is back with the verdict on the sub-less reality to the mayor's longer school days and/or the CTU's better school days: It's a landslide victory for use of the moniker, to which, particularly given the information below, most teachers and parents/guardians who want more than baby-sitting services for their children should request that we all JUST SCREAM NO.

FOR THE SUGGESTED SUB GRIEVANCE, STEP 2. PART 2: Feel free to use any and/or all of the situational information listed below to document the negative impacts occurring on any given longer school day (LSD) in any given school that is on the abuse and neglect treatment end of CPS in this almost daily situation. For the anonymous elementary school of this report, a two-columned chart was created: Situation Caused by Lack of Substitute Teacher Coverage and IMPACT How Every CTU Member is Impacted Directly and/or Indirectly by the Lack of Subs Being sent by the CBOE (Chicago Board of Education). These are some of the situations and negative impacts that might be described, some of the information added post-grievance-filing from what I have since gathered from listening to other delegates across the city:

1. SITUATION: The students in the absent teachers' classroom are divided into smaller groups or individuals and sent into other teachers' classrooms for the day. IMPACT: When students are sent into other classrooms, the class size of the receiving room is negatively impacted by an increase; the circumstances increase the probability for a rise in discipline issues occurring between and among students. The program/schedule of both classrooms is negatively impacted; alternative plans often need to be developed immediately. The changes mentioned thus far negatively impact the receiving teacher(s) and his/her assigned students as well as the students who do not have a substitute teacher as requested. Other teachers and staff who see the students for that day are negatively impacted in locations such as classrooms, lunchrooms, hallways, gym, library, etc;

2. SITUATION: The special education teacher(s) from the push-in/pull-out special education classroom(s) is utilized as a sub for the day. IMPACT: When the regular programs of the special education push-in and pull-out teacher is canceled for the day, due to either the teacher being absent and no sub being sent or the teacher being utilized as a sub, every students' IEP (Individual Education Plan, covered by federal law) related to that teacher's classroom/program is not implemented for that day. Added stress caused by this situation impacts the special education students, the regular education teachers (in whose rooms the students remain without the added services/supports), the students who are in the regular program in the classroom, the special education teacher possibly placed in a different teaching position for the day, and all other school personnel who need to handle or deal with what might result from the increased stress/strain of the situation;

3. SITUATION: In the case of a self-contained special education classroom, the regularly assigned teacher assistant remains in the room for the day with no teacher present. IMPACT: When special education students do not have a qualified, certified teacher with them for the day, they do not receive the same instructional program and supports that would otherwise occur. In addition, they do not receive their appropriate, scheduled minutes as required on their IEPs, which are covered under federal law. The teacher assistant(s) assumes the duties and responsibilities of the regular teacher for the day but does not receive comparable pay. The teacher assistant does not have a teacher assistant available for support in the classroom;

4. SITUATION: The counselor or other teacher(s) with duties and/or programs other than that of a regular classroom teacher covers the classroom(s) for the day. IMPACT: When non-classroom teachers and/or the counselor are utilized as subs for the day, their regularly scheduled programs are canceled for that day for the entire school. They are required to take on duties and instruction for which they are not scheduled/programmed in accordance with the school's improvement and/or general educational plan. In the case of the counselor, guidance sessions and/or services for students are missed, and in some cases cannot be made-up/rescheduled, in a way that impacts the entire school community; if this particularly relates to IEPs, federal law is not being followed. In the case of other classrooms – art, music, computer, library, and/or gym, etc. the missed preps should be listed in a Missed Prep notebook in the office and made up at a later time; this situation should be generally agreed upon by the PPC (Professional Problems Committee, which includes the CTU delegate, up to four elected teacher representatives, and the principal).

However, the interruption in these classrooms due to the lack of CBOE subs being sent to the school places an added and unnecessary amount of stress upon this existing local solution how is misses prep time to be scheduled when there is such a lack of subs available in the first place? The regular programs of all the classrooms in the school scheduled for any particular class on any given day are also negatively impacted for the students, as well as the teachers who lose the day's prep time;

5. SITUATION: There is no sub coverage for an ancillary teacher(s) who gives prep time for the teachers and maintains and conducts added programs/classes for the students. IMPACT: See #4 above;

6. SITUATION: In the case of a pre-kindergarten classroom, the regularly-assigned teacher assistant remains in the room for the day with no teacher present. IMPACT: When pre-kindergarten students do not have a qualified, certified teacher with them for the day, they do not receive the same instructional program and supports that would otherwise occur. The teacher assistant(s) assumes the duties and responsibilities of the regular teacher for the day but does not receive comparable pay. The teacher assistant does not have a teacher assistant in the room for support;

7. SITUATION: Other teacher assistants cover a classroom(s) for the entire day or for another unacceptable length of time in the day (dividing up the whole day). IMPACT: When the teacher assistants assigned to other duties in the school assume responsibility for classroom coverage for a day or part of a day, the students do not have a qualified, certified teacher delivering the instructional program for that time. The teacher assistant assumes the responsibilities of a teacher but does not receive an increase in pay. The regularly assigned duties of the teacher assistant need to be covered by yet other school personnel or are not implemented as scheduled/programmed to the detriment of the entire school;

8. SITUATION: The assistant principal(s) is utilized as a substitute teacher. IMPACT: While non-teaching, assistant principals may be reminded via hands-on experience of a much-needed but usually lost perspective on their buildings, for full or part time in any given day the school is forced to function without the duties and responsibilities that may be assigned to the assistant principal(s), which often includes discipline. (Side-Note: just a reminder that most if not all CPS-allocated assistant principals at the elementary school level are still counted as classroom teachers, though they are not, when the CBOE determines class size ratios for the allocation of teachers to a given elementary school, which automatically increases the class sizes officially listed for at least one of the various elementary school grade levels.) If a serious situation arises in the building, the assistant principal is not readily available;

9. SITUATION: The principal is utilized as a (usually temporary) substitute teacher. IMPACT: While principals may gain or be reminded of a much-needed but usually lost perspective on their buildings, an entire school is forced to function for a given time without the principal at the helm of the school. Duties and responsibilities are usually added to office personnel – school clerks, office assistants, and/or the school's secretary for which they are not comparably paid by the CBOE. If a serious situation arises in the building, the principal is not readily available;

10. SITUATION: Students, usually from more than one classroom, are housed in the lunchroom, gym, auditorium, or other available large areas of the school to minimize the lack of coverage available for the given above situations that might arise. IMPACT: The designated individuals put in charge of said chosen area - assistant principal(s), teacher(s), counselor(s), teacher assistant(s), principal him/herself, other school personnel – are not attending to the regular duties and responsibilities of which they are assigned for the school's longer day (LSD). Attempted control of pandemonium for the day or time period(s) ensues;

11. SITUATION: Teachers are not able to exercise their right under the contract without a possible concern for a negative impact on their classrooms and/or the school as a whole due to a legitimate absence from their employment positions.

IMPACT: The present contract agreement between the CBOE and the CTU requires that teachers use or lose (or bank up to a certain limited amount of) sick and personal business days when they are absent. Under the new conditions, the situations described and detailed above on the part of the CBOE – not sending subs – places undue and unacceptable stress upon the entire school community. Teachers may not take needed and legitimate and now required days off without having added stress from the realization that the above situations may in all probability occur to their students as well as the building due to one's need and right to take a contractual day away from work. The CTU members of any school should not have to be prepared to function for what amounts to a constant crisis or emergency mode of operation caused by the CBOE under the circumstances described above on an almost daily yet random basis.

This creates a cruel and unusual environment within CPS caused by the CBOE for all members of any given school's faculty, staff, and all other personnel within the building. Teachers and other staff should also not have to be concerned about placing the school in the above situations when they attend professional development outside of the school, for which the CBOE is required to send subs but has not done so under those circumstances as well. The sub situation results in employees seeking and attending professional development ironically having a negative impact on the school community. Question of WHY? Why is the Board not sending out subs? One miserly and evil speculation has the CBOE saving money on the backs of the local schools (read: greatly including the students) while biding its time, waiting out any potential complaints, until the schools that they are planning to close turn former classroom teachers into a glut and surplus on the market for substitute teachers on their way out of employment. Plus, in this way they consider the additional bonus of having the schools set up for even more failure from the inside-out on an almost daily basis. Or, it could just be having a grade of 0/Zero/F (though nothing lower than a 50/F is allowed to be given by teachers to students in some Networks, which is another report for another time) for institutional memory or knowledge for how to on the most basic CORE levels run a school system. So it could just be complete incompetence, lack of accountability... you know, the failing labels the labelers use on public education at the level of the local, and especially poverty-stricken, schools across America.

A shortage of substitutes was acknowledged to me this week by one worker manning the phones at CPS's Sub Center Business Office. The coordinator, Angela Simpson, is not available until school resumes on January 3. But, I was informed, a hiring event took place last week. Last week would be very near to the midway semester mark for the school year

FOR THE SUGGESTED SUB GRIEVANCE, STEP 3: First, understand that any individual so abused (for one random example, a teacher assistant directed to cover his/her pre-kindergarten classroom as the teacher for the day) has the right to file an individual grievance and list his/her own individual resolution(s). However, and one might agree with this after reading through the above school-wide impacts, my thinking as a delegate was and still is that the entire school is so negatively impacted in various ways on an almost daily basis that united we should stand. (With the exception that when Track E schools are not in session, Track R schools can usually expect to receive more subs than usual upon request.) I worded it like this in a listing of grievants supplied to the union's Grievance Department for PART 1 above: “This grievance is being filed on behalf of all CTU members at X School against the CBOE… Each and every time a substitute teacher (sub) is not sent to the school as requested, unacceptable levels of stress are imposed upon the entire X School learning community. Though X CTU members are not able to file grievances on behalf of students, parents, community residents, as well as lunchroom, janitorial staff, security guards, and teacher assistants represented by other unions, and/or the administration of the school, our grievance impacts all members of our school’s educational community.”

The following are the three resolutions I sought, #2 again being because I am not the mathematically-calculating character Charlie from Numbers:

1) The CBOE will cease and desist from violating the contract by sending substitute teachers to X School as requested and required;

2) The CBOE will compensate the X School community in the following way: a verifiable determination, with supporting written documentation, will be made as to the average salary of a substitute teacher in CPS. That salary amount will be multiplied by the number of situations in which subs were not sent to X School during the previous and present (to date) school years; that number will in turn be multiplied by 3 (1 for the absent teacher; 1 for the school personnel utilized for replacement for the sub; and 1 for all the others negatively impacted and compensating during the school day for the lack of the sub being sent to the school). That amount of funding will be allocated by the CBOE to the school in an attempt at just compensation; there is no full “compensation” for what X School has been and is experiencing except that the situation cease and desist. The local spending of the money allocated by the CBOE will be agreed upon by the X School PPC; and

3) The CBOE will supply to the school an official letter that will be made available by the end of each impacted day, with the administration of the school filling in the blanks as particularly needed. These letters will be sent home via the students who were impacted. In the letter the day’s particular situation(s) of not having a regular substitute teacher(s) due to the inaction of the CBOE will be documented for parents/guardians. The CBOE will add funding in #2) to be determined by the school for excess paper, excess wear and tear on the school’s copiers, and utilization of school personnel for this task. (Hey, a person can dream, no?)


Speaking from my own experience over the past 20 or so years of teaching in CPS in schools on the south side, I will negatively attest that nothing has changed in CTU’s Grievance Department. I’ve heard the same from other delegates as well. When I have called, as a teacher or now as a delegate, and no one is available (often), messages left are not usually returned. When I have e-mailed, messages that are responded to are half-answered if that. Mostly, one is continually and, in some cases, in ingenious (but disingenuous) ways steered away from creating any work for anyone in this department of the union. In my case, I was advised at one point by the head of the Grievance Department, Sara Echeveria, to file a grievance for “missed preps” regarding the above reported sub situations.

I’m sure that I will be perceived as an even greater pain-in-the-you-know-what for the writing of this narrative report by anyone within CTU defending the Grievance Department, or at least the sections that I have encountered which are responsible for the schools in which I’ve been a CTU member over many years. The official union grievance that was ultimately written and filed (on December 14 and received by me after December 19, 2012) by the CTU Grievance Department, over a month after I submitted the grievance information, was directed at X School’s principal, totally contrary to very explicit instructions. The wording is often contorted for this reason. I requested but was denied an opportunity to view the official grievance before it was submitted within the CBOE by the CTU Grievance Department. I am presently hoping that to address the principal of the school is simply an initial step in the process, with the full brunt of this kind of grievance aimed squarely where it belongs: on the mayor and his Board of Education, and those particularly responsible within for the hiring and management of substitute teachers. One hope I have in writing the above saga is for other delegates or active union members to put pressure on the CTU Grievance Department to do something system-wide regarding the extremely negative working conditions created on an almost daily basis for so many of us out in the schools with no substitute teachers being regularly sent as requested from the CBOE. This overall situation is simply way over the heads of any local school CTU delegates or members. But, delegates, use the information above to file something, anything ASAP (as soon as possible). My pro-CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators), necessary side-note: Under CORE leadership, the CTU Organizing Department and the CTU Research Department (as well as other departments, I am sure, and including some field representatives in the Grievance Department about whom I have heard of but never encountered myself) totally and awesomely ROCK beyond-the-call-of-duty on behalf of the membership.

The Grievance Department from my perspective and experience, however, is the S.O.S. (Same Old… Socks).


To any parents/guardians reading this: When school resumes in January of 2013, go into that local school office and ask about the above situation of not having any subs. Your child might just not very likely come home and tell you on any given night that s/he had a relatively academic-free and/or particularly “crazy” day at school… If the above is not the case in your particular school, please have empathy for the schools that are so impacted, especially when they are branded as “failures.” And consider the experiences of the students, if not the employees, in those schools, at a minimum. To the mayor, the members of the Board of Education, whoever is the present CEO before your vicious part is played here and you take off for another vicious part to be played destroying public education elsewhere, and to every penny-grabbing, sniveling, educational privatizer, de-form blowhard, and/or wind-bagged wannabe or so-called Education Secretary across America: If you can’t fulfill the basic jobs requirements such that on your watch you abuse, neglect, and starve public education, look in the mirror before you apply the label of “failure” to anything or anyone else – students, teachers, PSRPs, principals, and all the other members of any schools’ communities. “It may be that in the sight of Heaven you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. O God! to hear the insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dirt!” (This is from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. The original copyright was 1843, but it could have been written in reference to our present circumstances in 2012 for the way in which some things just have not changed.)

[Partial disclosure: The narrator and reporter for this Substance story is an elementary school teacher in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). She is also her school’s Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) delegate. Non-disclosure: The name of any particular Chicago public school is withheld.

Why the non-disclosure? The tax-paying public needs to fully understand that the narrative account of what is described and reported below pertains to the school to which goes/go his/her own child/ren, stepchild/ren, foster child/ren, grandchild/ren, niece(s), nephew(s), younger neighbor(s), any child cared about, all the city’s children. Because it very well could be and probably does apply to him/her. And if not, “WHY NOT?” is the equity and fairness as well as basic competency and accountability question to be asked of this present CPS system of management.]


December 31, 2012 at 6:29 AM

By: Bob Busch

Sub Shortage.

From my online application:

"You have submitted your application on 3/12/2012 6:56:29 AM "

If there are not enough subs to go around perhaps the application process is flawed? I wonder if i will ever hear if my application is approved? There isn't enough room for me to list the hoops i have jumped through just to try and be a sub.

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