For the third time in under a decade, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is voting on the possibility of a strike, asking for higher pay over the next several years. Their demands include $452 million for union members, and the vote will be held from September 24 through September 26. If the votes are in favor of at least 75% of members, a strike could follow for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and could have students out of school after only about 1 month into the new school year.
Newly elected Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot walked into this dicey collective bargaining debacle right at the start of her service as mayor by seemingly engaging in a very reasonable way. Lightfoot offered a 14% raise for teachers over the course of 5 years. The union countered Lightfoot’s offer with a 15% raise over the course of 3 years. That demand totals approximately $452 million in the first year alone, would cover the costs of support staff, teachers’ assistants, and a 5% salary increase. It is also set to rise each year as salary and pensions increase.
The union is arguing that not only are they in need of higher salaries but that classroom sizes are becoming increasingly large with less support for the teachers to manage. With the increasing classroom size would also come a higher cost per student that Chicago Public Schools are facing. Currently, CPS has a 16% higher price-per-student than the Illinois average.
CTU also is requesting that Lightfoot approve the hiring of new staff that would consist of social workers, nurses, and special education counselors for each school. This would be just about 4,400 new staff members with the additional salary to supplement this.
Opponents to CTU’s demands point to the fact that while more money is being spent on CPS students, these students are often struggling and frequently underperforming in categories like SAT scores, graduation rates, and academic benchmarks. It is also been found that less than 1% of school districts in Illinois have a higher salary than Chicago Public School teachers with bachelor’s degrees. Oh, and there’s the fact that CPS and the City aren’t exactly flush with cash these days.
Furthermore, comparing CPS teacher salaries to those who teach in school districts in the largest 10 cities nation-wide, CPS ranks the highest. Significantly, any increase in salary would also disrupt the pension budget that is already a huge concern for Chicago. It is beyond dispute that Chicago is not financially able to cover more pension benefit obligations for the influx of additional personnel that they would have to hire to satisfy the CTU’s demands against a strike.
Along with a slew of other outliers and factors that Chicago is facing, it is hard to tell if Mayor Lori Lightfoot will settle on an agreement with the CTU before their proposed strike vote at the end of the month. What is not hard to predict is that Mayor Lightfoot has a major issue right in front of her that has significant political and financial implications. This will be an interesting matter to keep an eye on.