Board, union split loaf on reconstitution, advisory

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On the windiest day of the fall semester, a new four-year contract sailed through the Chicago Teachers Union membership with a 3-to-2 approval rating. The vote was 13,501 to 9,942, with 75 percent of CTU members casting ballots. The contract is the union’s second, consecutive four-year pact and will supercede the current contract two months before it expires at the end of August 1999. Here are highlights.

Re-engineering in

The contract gives teachers a voice in repairing under-performing schools through a new process called re-engineering, which is a step between probation and reconstitution. At each school chosen for re-engineering, faculty will elect a peer evaluation group to review teachers’ performance. Teachers will have the opportunity to opt out of peer evaluation, in which case they will be given a year-long interim assignment at a different school before being put in the pool of reassigned teachers. A joint union-board panel will assign assessment teams to review school improvement plans—the contract does not specify team membership—and oversee the entire process.

The contract does not address the fate of teachers who are not invited back to reconstituted schools, a sore point for many union members. Of the 179 teachers ousted from reconstituted schools in summer 1997, about 40 still have not found permanent positions in the school system, according to CTU spokesperson Jackie Gallagher. The Reform Board twice has extended the time period for reassigned teachers to obtain a post or be dismissed; they now have until Jan. 22.

Gallagher says the union still intends to file suit if anyone loses a job; it contends the state law allowing such dismissals is unconstitutional.

The contract is mum on the issue because “No contract can supercede state law,” says Gallagher. Under the law, the central administration can reconstitute low-performing schools that fail to make adequate progress toward correcting their deficiencies after having been placed on probation. Teachers and principals can be dismissed, new local school council elections can be ordered, and schools can be completely closed down or reopened with new staff and programs.

The union was highly critical of how teacher dismissals were handled. Decisions were based on interviews—some of them very brief—rather than classroom observations, and teachers were not told the criteria by which they were being judged. In creating the re-engineering process, the union has done what it can to “at least create a climate where we won’t see reconstitution as it was done a year ago,” says Gallagher.

Jay Rehak of Proactive Chicago Teachers and School Employees (PACT), a dissident CTU caucus, applauds teacher involvement but is skeptical of re-engineering. “How it plays out depends on the political winds,” he says. “The board can take this process and be gentle or hard.”

Principals contacted by Catalyst like the new teacher role. “Reconstitution was harsh. This is an attempt to humanize the process,” says Charles Mingo of reconstituted DuSable High School. Beverly Tunney, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA), agrees that teacher involvement is key. “There are lessons to be learned from reconstitution,” she says. “One of them is that school improvement must come from within.”

Two-tiered raises

“It’s not money from heaven,” concedes Gallagher, “but realistically, everyone will get a minimum of 3 percent each year.” Teachers and other CTU members at the top of their salary scales will receive a 3 percent salary increase each year of the new agreement—teachers hit the top of the scale after 12 years. Those below the top of the scale will get, in addition to their step increases, a general increase of 3 percent the first year and then a general increase of 2 percent each of the following three years.

The contract also guarantees that CTU members will get a piece of any increases in designated revenues. For example, a revenue increase of 6 percent to 7 percent in fiscal year 2000 would boost the top-of-scale raises to 3.2 percent.

Gallagher notes that while the raises are slightly lower than those in the current contract, the new pact holds health-care premiums steady for four years and allows teachers employed for at least 34 years to collect 100 percent of accumulated sick pay at the time of retirement.

The contract also provides that money earned in summer school, extracurricular and certain after-school programs can be counted toward pensions, with the board paying the 7 percent employee contribution. However, state law must be changed to accommodate this benefit. If it isn’t, the money the board set aside for this purpose will be used to improve other benefits.

Tunney feels the contract provides “fair raises.” Rehak and many other PACT members believe that they should have been higher.

Advisories back on

The new contract ends a board-union standoff on advisory periods for students. The board had ordered schools to institute them but wouldn’t pay teachers extra. As a result, many schools ignored the order.

Under the new contract, the standard high school day will consist of eight 45-minute periods instead of seven 50-minute periods, which paves the way for a board-paid advisory. Each day, teachers will continue to have five teaching periods, a self-directed preparation period and a lunch period. The extra period created by the switch to 45-minute periods will be used for advisory, advisory preparation, staff development and teacher collaboration, with each of these activities getting one period a week. Teachers with a division assignment will get one period for division preparation and counseling.

Faculties may vote for alternative schedules, including 40-, 42-, or 50-minute periods.

“I’m a real believer in advisory, in anything we can do to connect with kids and foster that connection so kids stay in school,” says Tunney of the principals association. She acknowledges, though, that the new schedules won’t be easy to program.

Tim Barnette, the programmer for Amundsen High School, says the challenge will be figuring out how to productively use the extra period when students aren’t in advisory. In over-crowded schools like Amundsen, it will be a challenge to find enough classrooms, too, he notes.

Constantine Kiamos, principal at Steinmetz High School, echoes Barnette’s concerns. He hopes to sit down with a group of principals to develop models.

Members of PACT are critical of the new high school day. Rehak predicts that programmers will schedule advisory for the last period of the day, giving students study halls on the days they don’t have advisory. If that happens, he says, students likely will leave early.

Debby Pope, a CTU delegate at Schurz High and a member of PACT, believes it is important that the faculty develops closer relationships with students, yet she is concerned about the loss of instructional time under the 45-minute day.

Until 1993, high schools had eight 40-minute periods. Research conducted by the Chicago Panel on School Policy in the 1980s found that many students filled up their schedules with study halls, which they often skipped.

The board and union agreed to seven 50-minute periods in the fall of 1993, largely to save money. With fewer periods, fewer teachers were needed, and $20 million was saved through attrition. (See Catalyst, November 1993.)

There was an academic downside, however. Labs that had been scheduled for two 40-minute periods had to be condensed into one 50-minute period. And it was harder for students to fit electives into their schedules.

Peer review out

A current provision for work toward a Peer Professional Advisory Program was eliminated. Gallagher says that the article was deleted because the board did not provide adequate funding for the process, “not because we are against peer review.”

Peer review has been a hot topic in school reform. “It can be successful, if teachers can become critical friends and work together to create a better classroom,” says Tunney.