New Union-Backed Renaissance School... Talent Development High School a sellout

If you can’t beat them, join them.

That certainly seems to be the slogan of the Chicago Teachers Union, apparently waving the surrender flag loud and clear with the decision to join the corporate-backed Renaissance Plan to destroy public schools and place mostly non-union charter and contract schools in the city.

The new "Chicago Talent Development High School," one of the new Renaissance schools that started classes this year, is backed by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), the Service Employees International Union (Local 73) and John Hopkins University.

The teachers, however, will be represented by a union that will collectively bargain with this new private-public school.

“We’d rather be partners than get rolled over in this thing,” said Connee Fitch-Blanks, who serves on the Talent Development School's Board of Directors and works for the Chicago Teachers Union.

The teachers have yet to bargain for their compensation and benefits with the management, but there is one glaring omission in this new union–corporate partnership — no more teacher pension, Fitch-Blanks said. The employees will have a 401K, a matching retirement plan that corporations are using to replace the defined pension benefit program. Even Chicago charter school teachers participate in the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF), so the union school goes even further in destroying and undermining the traditional defined benefit pension plan.

One glaring concern with the new Renaissance schools sprouting up like mushrooms across the city is that the students they gain come at the expense of the public schools, leading to a declining student enrollment that is forcing neighborhood schools to close.

But according to Fitch-Blanks, this will not happen with the new union-sponsored Renaissance school. She claims that this new school will serve children who do not have a nearby public high school to attend in West Garfield Park after a few schools closed, thanks to the Renaissance plan.

Originally they wanted the Talent Development school to be a charter school, Fitch-Blanks said, but they were told by the Chicago Board of Education that there were no more charters available. They then decided to become a contract school.

The Chicago Teachers Union has focused on organizing charter schools rather than fighting them. They currently introduced a resolution in the education committee in the Chicago City Council to recognize the right of charter teachers to form a union.

“The CTU is not anti-charter schools,” CTU President Marilyn Stewart said in the Chicago Union Teacher news magazine. “We’re anti-non-union schools. We believe that all teachers deserve the right to bargain collectively and be represented by a union.”

Charter school teachers who form a union will not be able to join the Chicago Teachers Union.

In addition to charter and contract schools, there is also the option for a new Renaissance school to be a performance school where the teachers are members of the CTU. Fitch-Blanks said that new schools cannot be performance. However, the newly built Albany Park Middle School, which originally was slated to be a charter school until an angry community meeting nixed the idea because the parents wanted a neighborhood school, is a performance school. The new Social Justice High School, which was built after a hunger strike demanded building a new school to relieve the overcrowded schools on the southwest side, is also a performance school.

Activist teachers with CORE, a caucus that will be opposing the CTU leadership in next May’s election, who have been challenging the new Renaissance schools that are forcing public schools to close, said it seems the new charters are being steered away from the option of becoming a performance school.

Of course, revenue and teacher compensation play a big role in this. The Chicago International Charter School which runs several campuses in the city fought the decision of the teachers at three of their schools to form a union and successfully argued to the National Labor Relations Board to not recognize the vote because they are a private company, even though they receive more than $30 million from the state and would not exist without tax payer dollars.

A teacher at the Ralph Ellison campus that voted in a private election the second time to form the union said he received a lot of anti-union literature and the administration made their anti-union views known openly to the teachers.

The union vote came after the charter high school added an extra hour of instruction to the teachers workload without compensation, he said.

The Chicago Talent Development High School certainly has the feel of a slick corporate package judging by its high-powered website. Their mission statement reads: “The vision of Chicago Talent Development High School is to graduate and prepare all students for success in college and civic life with small learning communities.”

The website ( states that the 9th grade will enroll no more than 150 students and the students will have 90 minutes of instruction in math and language arts each day in addition to taking “career focused” elective courses.

The school is “implementing the John Hopkins reform model in Chicago’s least served community.”

Merit pay for the teachers, the website states, is a must, and its rhetoric very Hubermanisk. “We will establish differentiated pay among peers … and allow for differences of metrics of student progress over time … and will be ‘tenaciously’ data focused.”

The Talent School is part of the Union Park High Schools, one of which American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten started in New York city. Their inspiration, the website states, comes from the Green Dot Public Schools in Los Angeles which Education Secretary and former Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan has promoted.

Green Dot schools showed them “innovative new schools and unions are not incompatible,” the website says.

The website also says “teacher retention and job satisfaction will be the primary measures of success.” Today there is high turnover in many charter schools because they pay teachers less than regular public schools, with fewer benefits and longer work hours.

The Talent Development school will have a partnership with CPS Office of New Schools, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and the Renaissance School Fund, according to the website.

Perhaps the strangest component to this strange partnership between the CTU and the Renaissance Plan is the funding component. Many charter schools raise millions of dollars from the corporate world which would like to destroy unions. However, that funding is precarious when corporations, whose ties go first to its bottom line, suddenly pull the plug. Lehmann Brothers, a huge investment company that went bankrupt last year after investing heavily in the sub-prime mortgage debacle, was funding charter schools. According to the website, the Talent school’s development committee will seek funds from its sister unions and national and local foundations and eventually become a “free standing school management organization (SMO).”

They will eventually be fully supported by gaining revenue from a 7.5% charge back to the schools’ budgets for school support operations.

“We expect that we will ‘break even’ and have a self sustaining structure by year eight (FY 2017).” 

Final edited version of this article posted at September 29, 2009, 7:00 p.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.