Members First... Questions about the proposed CTU Charter union merger and other challenges to changes including the proposal for CTU to officially vote itself into a so-called 'social justice union'

As of September 2017, CORE (the Caucus Of Rank and file Educators) is the only official caucus within the Chicago Teachers Union. The CORE slate ran and won unopposed in the union's 2016 election, returning Karen Lewis and Jesse Sharkey to the union's two main leadership positions and therefore retaining all of the appointed executive people who have been trying to steer the CTU in the direction of what is called "Social Justice Unionism" for several years. But by early 2017, the union's 25,000 members were beginning to organize against the direction of the leadership, citing the terrible contract rushed through (after two years of "negotiations" without a strike) in October 2017 and the vast amounts of money being spent by the union leadership on patronage and political action with much transparency. The first agenda item for those who attended the Members First September 19, 2017 meeting at Connie’s Pizza was: Proposed CTU Constitution Changes. The current leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union has proposed a number of controversial changes the union Constitution and By-Laws. The change are being discussed in the schools prior to the October meeting of the CTU House of Delegates. Observers have noted many problems with these proposals, and some were discussed at Members First.

There were approximately 15-20 people in attendance. It was noted that many more had signed up for information and/or were unable to attend the meeting; the number of CTU members requesting information from and speaking in solidarity with Members First has long since passed the “tipping point” of 150, according to those who have been organizing and leading Members First.

The Members First Charter merger questions are listed further below.

First, a little background. At the September 6, 2017 House of Delegates (HOD) meeting, the HOD adopted Item for Action “Resolution to Adopt a Timeline for the Constitutional Referendum Process.”

As a result of that adoption, the basic schedule ahead for CTU members is as follows: At the October 4, 2017 HOD meeting, the Executive Board will present the constitutional change recommendations.

At the November 1, 2017 HOD meeting, the HOD will vote on the change recommendations as well as approve the referendum procedures.

During the week of December 11, 2017, the CTU membership will vote on the constitutional change recommendations.

At the September HOD meeting, delegates were given a handout entitled, “CTU Constitutional Changes: Facing New Challenges, Building New Opportunities.” Subheading: “Key proposed changes to our constitution and bylaws, to power up in an era of continued attacks on public education & labor and build strategies to win for our members and our students.”

Note the language that informs everyone that all of this is not for the leadership of CTU but for the membership and the children.

Presently, among other proposals, the following three proposed constitutional changes relate to charter schools merging with CTU, this information coming straight from the CTU propaganda/handout:

1) Article I: Preamble change to allow new members into the CTU. 2) Article III: Update to recognize all CTU members including counselors, clinicians and Charter school members. 3) And merge with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teacher and Staff (Chi ACTS) and amend representation, dues and governance to reflect these new CTU members.

Those remaining in attendance near the end of the Members First September meeting took an unofficial poll; none of them would personally be voting in favor of CTU merging with charter schools. However, it had already been decided that instead of openly opposing the merger as a group (call it a caucus if you will, but the group does not yet officially consider itself a caucus), they would continue to press CTU leadership with questions and concerns as well as share those questions and concerns as much as possible with all CTU members so that there could be a more informed vote in December. CTU CHARTER MERGER QUESTIONS

• How does the ELRA implicate Charters? (Educational Labor Relations Act) Will Charters be covered by the Act? Will they be subject to collective bargaining provisions of ELRA?

• What about the rights and obligations under the School Code (Illinois Statute Chapter 105)? Will they follow teacher evaluations, tenure, seniority and other rights: Will CTU fight for those rights for Charter teachers?

• Will each Charter have a separate contract with the CTU?

• What position will CTU take on pensions for Charter School teachers?

• What about Tort Immunity and auditing for Charter owners? Have these issues been discussed and lobbied in Springfield?

• Where does CTU stand on Charter school proliferation?

• Do you have figures on how many students CPS has lost to Charters over the years?

• How many CTU members have lost jobs due to charter schools opening near CPS neighborhood schools? Kelly HS hemorrhaged jobs with the last round of budget cuts. There are only 400 freshman enrolled. In the past, Kelly HS has had about 1000 freshman. What happened? A Noble Charter opened down the block. [Members First noted in discussion that Roosevelt HS has basically experienced the same thing.]

• In the past, we have endorsed legislative candidates that DID NOT support charters. What do we tell legislators now? How do we lobby on the charter issue under this merger proposal?

• In New York, Mayor de Blasio was able to retain mayoral control of schools by agreeing to increase the number of charter schools and promising to make it easier for charters to exist. Charter teachers in New York can teach without being certified. Are we like New York now – supporting charters?

• The new contract has a ‘side letter’ that caps Charter school expansion (net zero increase) and limits charter seats available to students (In SY 18-19, enrollment not to exceed 101% of the SY 15-16 enrollment). How does this fit with a merger proposal?

• In the past, elementary school counselors have promoted CPS high school options to 8th grade students and families. Will this change now? Are we supporting our 8th grade students attending charter high schools? The new CPS application now lists charter options. Our CPS neighborhood high schools are going to die.

• How is the Charter merger going to be explained to parents and community members? We have long emphasized the value of sending children to our neighborhood schools over the charter school option.

• How would the HOD operate if Charter delegates are present at meetings?

• How much will a Charter member pay in dues?

• What does CTU plan to offer in terms of CTU leadership roles to charter members? An officer position? Trustee position? Functional Vice President position? How many delegates? [One comment from the Members First meeting was if CTU leadership would agree to a complete sharing or even turnover-takeover of leadership by charter schools. Answer: Absolutely not. But it is alright for the membership to share all, though?]

• What is the projected cost to providing membership to charter teachers? Jesse and Jim explained that hiring an additional field rep to serve charter members would not be necessary because current field reps do not carry a full workload. Any other costs?

[Reporter’s Notes: Therese Boyle and other Members First leaders met over the summer with Jesse Sharkey, CTU Vice President, and James Gillmeister, CTU Chief Financial Officer, who reports monthly to the to HOD. They had many questions and concerns regarding the CTU Foundation as well as Charter schools.

Please see Back Issue of Substance from June 7, 2017 in which Jesse Sharkey answers this reporter’s/delegate’s question of CTU costs thus far re charter schools with “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” that is, CTU members’ dues money having already gone to charter schools. Has Robert Bloch’s legal representation of charters in their negotiations been completely at CTU members’ expense? Do CTU field reps consider themselves as not carrying a full workload?]

• If a Charter school loses enrollment and is threatened by closure, does CTU rally around the charter as we did for Dyett HS? Would our organizing department be deployed to help organize the community to protest the closure?

• Neighborhood Advisory Councils (NACs) have fought for neighborhood schools and fought against charter schools. The NACs have been our allies. CTUF [Chicago Teachers Union Foundation] has poured donations into NACs to support their work. What message are we giving to the NACs with this merger?

• Our communities have organized to support CPS neighborhood schools as being the best option for families. The Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Southwest Organizing Project, Grassroots Collaborative, Raise Your Hand, CTU, our political allies, and 1000 community members all came out to rally against charters in July of 2015 on the south side. The same type of anti-charter rally was also organized on the north side. Now we support charters?

• What happened to the idea that the CPS neighborhood school is the best choice for families? Chicago Bulls College Prep, Nobel HS and the UNO Soccer Academy draw students from all over the city. There are no attendance boundaries for these charters. This is not supporting the concept of neighborhood schools.

• The city of Chicago has a limited number of potential students. CTU and Charters are fighting for the same students. Student enrollment = teaching positions. How will CTU support CPS teachers in maintaining teaching positions over charter teachers?

• In Chicago, the charter industry has used public money recklessly with virtually no oversight or accountability. School district money flowing to charter management companies is used for outrageous salaries. In the charter world, these things are hidden from public view. Does CTU have the manpower and resources to combat the fraud and schemes of the charter industry? At what cost to the CPS CTU members?

[Reporter’s Question: Does CTU support FOR-PROFIT education or free and equal PUBLIC EDUCATION?]

• Many states, including Texas, have legislation that allows state takeover of entire school districts. Outside forces, such as the Walton Family Foundation, love privatization for profit. Are we leading the way for an all-charter conversion of CPS? • Charter 2018 contract negotiations will occur in 2018, with our own contract coming due in 2019. In the past, we spent a year before (and this last contract a year after) to start contract with CPS. Are we to wait on charter schools’ contract finalization?

• We know the Charter schools will be negotiated at a far lower rate than CTU teachers currently earn, both in terms of salary and benefits – doesn’t this weaken our ability to negotiate a year after them? Won’t the city be able to say – take what the charter teachers were given and be “happy”?

The following are additional questions/concerns that arose during the meeting:

• What about charter schools having an equal number of special education and English Language Learner students as CPS neighborhood schools and being held to the same standards in that regard?

• How would CTU go on strike with fellow members, Charter school teachers, presumably crossing picket lines because all of the contracts do not align?

• What is the process that Charter schools might fold back into legitimate, accountable and transparent public schools? It is troubling that this has not happened nor does there appear to be any plan for this to happen? • If a charter school is “dying,” should CTU members step up to help “save it” or “let it die”?

• Is CTU leadership going to loudly, vocally, and highly recommend and push for this type of merger for other unions in Chicago or elsewhere, such as: the Chicago Police Department (CPD), the Chicago Fire Department (CFD), the Post Office, all construction trade unions, etc? that they also merge with private sector counterparts and/or workers in their same general field, with different pay schedules and work hours as well as working conditions? [Obvious answer: A very resounding NO. Then why is such a set-up supposedly so good for CTU membership?]

There are other items than the one to put Charters into the CTU. Unrelated, but brought up at the end of the meeting: Why is there a proposal for constitutional change specifically created for the sole purpose of solidifying one particular CTU position, the one presently held by Jackson Potter? “Article VII: Executive Committee; shall employ a chief of staff under the direction of the president.”

Another controversial proposal is to redefine the Chicago Teachers Union itself...


The membership of CTU also needs to be clearly informed that proposed constitutional changes, if voted for, will officially change CTU into a social justice union. “Article I: Preamble change to include social, racial and economic justice for our members, students and their communities and the need for labor and community allies in these struggles.” Since the legal purpose of the union is to negotiate a contract for the members it represents, the question arises, as it has for generations, how the leadership plans to "negotiate" for "students and their communities" (and who defines these two things)?

Along with this, it is proposed that District Supervisors change their titles to District Organizers “and clarifies their roles.”

That present CORE union leadership has been pushing the union in this exact direction, with many members feeling this has pushed the union farther and farther away from member services. This is exactly why Members First was formed in the first place.


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