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Charter teachers share experiences at CTU organizing party

More than 50 Chicago Public School and Charter school teachers gathered at Union Park Lounge on the evening of February 2, 2013 for the first Charter / CTU mixer. The purpose of this event was to begin to unite two groups that have been segregated by the push for privatized education in Chicago. By law, charter school teachers are barred from joining the Chicago Teachers Union and must form their own unions, school-by-school. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the CTU's national parent union, has been organizing charters in Chicago.

Charter school teachers in Chicago are facing problems similar to those faced by teachers in the city's regular public schools -- and then some. Classrooms without books because administrators are afraid to spend any money in fear of losing their jobs; relatives being given positions and paid higher salaries than other staff members; and teachers being penalized for union activity were among the complaints that the charter teachers, all of whom asked to remain anonymous for now, shared with Substance. These comments came from Charter School teachers.

Other concerns included inadequate preparation time, no time for collaboration, lack of resources and no follow up by the administration. Teachers are buying their own supplies — including science equipment! — so they can provide a quality education for their students. These concerns are the same ones CPS teachers — and CTU — have been repeatedly expressing over the years. The big difference is that Chicago Teachers Union members have a contract which gives us rights, while for most charter teachers the system is one of privileges not of rights.

Charter Schools do not require certified teachers. However, once a school starts to organize, the teachers at that school are required to get certified or lose their jobs. One teacher told Substance that he lost his $60,000 year suburban job due to budget cuts and is now making $40,000 teaching at a Chicago charter school. Not only is the pay meager, but the fringe benefits are inadequate. He also reported their vision and dental insurance is very limited and there is no 403-B plan.

But public school teachers are the same just about everywhere. Another common theme between Charter and Public School teachers is the caring and concern for the students. From high school on down every teacher expressed their love of teaching and how much they enjoyed their students. Every teacher has a specific child they wanted to talk about, that one case that really pulls at heart strings and the frustration that teacher can’t do more for the students.

AFT, CTU and the president and Vice president of Unionized Charter Schools worked together to pull off a successful event. Little ripples of solidarity could be felt twining through the room and will continue to strengthen with time.

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