Among other contractual issues, CTU’s new class size floor is UNO’s new ceiling...

Contractual Class Size Changes will hurt classroom teachers. A change was made regarding class sizes in the "Tentative Agreement" (TA) recently approved by the membership of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Class size is something that is negotiable, but, unfortunately, not an area over which CTU members might go out on strike over as per state law.

In past contracts, and not having changed from the last century’s last CTU strike in 1987, class sizes, enforceable or not, were as follows for elementary school classrooms kindergarten through second grade: 28 at the kindergarten level and 28 at the primary level. Primary level refers to 1st and 2nd grades.

The Chicago Board of Education has also, though not in this case, included 3rd grade as a primary level, as it has applied to their particular needs of any given circumstances over the years.

In the present TA, the following has been changed related to class sizes for kindergarten through 2nd grade classrooms: “Support for Over-crowded K to 2 Classes: Article 28-4 shall be replaced as follows: Effective school year 2016-17 and each school year thereafter, a teacher assistant or instructor assistant will be assigned to kindergarten to second grade classrooms that have 32 or more students enrolled on 10th day.”

Removed from the most recent Contract Agreement, Article 28-4 read as follows: “Elementary schools without space available and where additional teachers have been assigned will : a. receive first priority in the assignment of Cadre and day-to-day substitute teachers; b. have physical education teachers and teacher-librarians assigned based on the number of teaching positions, which each kindergarten class counted as one position.”

TA Implications for the Lowering of Librarian and Physical Education Positions?

Under the Tentative Agreement, as with the most recent contract, there are two article sections which remain the same in reference to the number of librarians in a school; there is nothing comparable related to physical education (PE) teachers.

ARTICLE 15 LIBRARIANS: ELEMENTARY AND HIGH SCHOOL 15-1. Staffing Ratio for Librarians. The standard (prescribed by the American Library Association in its Standards for School Library Programs, 1960, and supported by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Standards for School Library Programs in Illinois, 1966) that there shall be one librarian for every five hundred students or major fraction thereof shall be a goal toward which to work as funds become available.

And, Article 15-5. Primary Student Schedules. As a goal toward which the BOARD shall work as funds become available, provision shall be made for all primary school students in each elementary school to have one library period per week under the direction of the teacher-librarian.

“Funds available” now contractually requires Board funds, $6 million allocated annually (and with a likelihood of local schools’ funding needed as well), to be allotted for a teacher or instructor assistant in over-crowded K-2 classrooms.

To review, there is contractual language regarding the following: new K-2 class size language of 32 students; remaining article “should haves” referencing the number of librarians but not PE teachers; and elimination of language regarding an assigned number of librarian and PE positions per number of teaching positions in (all now?) elementary schools.

Thusly, it appears that CTU members have agreed to a possible contractual, further lowering of the number of union-member librarian positions and with perhaps a lowering of union-member PE positions in some schools as well. The great differences between the words “will” versus “shall” and “as funds become available” is the reason one must proverbially, carefully read the fine print.

Contractual Class Size Comparisons to UNO Charter Schools

At the November 2, 2016 House of Delegates (HOD) meeting, the first meeting after the HOD voted to accept and therefore pass the TA on to the membership (which then voted roughly 70% to 30% in favor of the TA), Vice President Jesse Sharkey ceded some of his allotted speaking time to a few special guests: Chris Baehrend, president of ChiACTS (Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff), Local 4343, and two teachers from UNO charter schools, members of UEU (United Educators of UNO).

By law, charter school teachers cannot be members of the CTU; however, all Chicago CTU and charter school union members within their union dues pay dues to and are members of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Chris Baehrend, speaking to his union “sisters and brothers” who also teach “public school children,” introduced the two members from UNO schools. The UNO teachers in their turn shared information with the HOD about a few contractual issues they had faced regarding employment in their charter school. [Note: Charter schools are still by definition publicly-funded but privately-profiting educational businesses with different standards and far less rules and oversight than those in place for public schools.]

The UNO teachers spoke of the 96% of their 532 membership voting in favor of strike authorization. UNO leadership, as was the case with their CTU brothers and sisters, negotiated a last-minute midnight deal (well, 3:00 AM for UNO), and with the same lawyer(s). In the case of UNO charter school employees, the following three things were shared with the HOD regarding their TA: 1) PSRPs would receive raises; 2) high school teachers would now work 8 hours, equal to the hours of elementary school teachers, noting that high school teachers had been working 9 hours for the same pay as elementary school teachers; and 3) UNO classrooms now had caps of 32 students per classroom.

With a simple compare/contrast exercise regarding CTU’s TA regarding class sizes (K-2) to the class size cap in the TA of UNO charter schools, CTU members, by having basically agreed to the setting of a contractual FLOOR of 32 students in K-2 classrooms, have placed themselves in competition with their counterpart “union brothers and sisters” in UNO charter schools who themselves now have a contractual CEILING of 32 students per class, which would include K-2 classrooms.

Presidential Ceding of Speaking Minutes to Charter School Union President at Previous HOD Meeting

At the HOD meeting of October 5, 2016, the meeting at which delegates were supposedly being prepped to implement at their schools all things necessary for the so-called upcoming strike, President Karen Lewis ceded some of her speaking time to a “special guest”: Chris Baehrend, President of ChiACTS.

He noted in so many words that charter schools were the schools that hired CTU members who were laid off from CPS. This was followed by loud clapping from the delegates, noting that there was very little if any loud clapping during the rest of the HOD meeting. He said that charter school teachers faced similar situations. At that time he announced that UNO teachers were voting on strike authorization that day and the next.

Final Thoughts

Before voting, one should be fully informed of the potential contract agreements of one’s “competition,” especially when sharing the same higher-level leaders (IFT and AFT) as well as lawyer(s) (CTU) and with presumed possible CTU leadership consultation/involvement. [Insert lawyer and/or sell-out and/or oblivious union leadership jokes of choice here.]


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