Charter school contract talks underway for Chicago International

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Teachers at three Chicago International schools—the first charter teachers to unionize in Chicago—are two weeks into formal contract talks with management group Civitas Schools and hope to ink a deal by the end of August.

“They seem to be negotiating in good faith,” reports Emily Mueller, a Spanish teacher at the Chicago International Northtown campus who is directly involved in negotiations. At this pace, she says a contract could be finalized by the end of the first week of school, which starts Aug. 17.

Mueller would not discuss specific contract issues. But she did describe several broad-ranging matters that surfaced in staff surveys conducted by Chicago ACTS, the newly formed union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

Teachers at three Chicago International schools—the first charter teachers to unionize in Chicago—are two weeks into formal contract talks with management group Civitas Schools and hope to ink a deal by the end of August.

“They seem to be negotiating in good faith,” reports Emily Mueller, a Spanish teacher at the Chicago International Northtown campus who is directly involved in negotiations. At this pace, she says a contract could be finalized by the end of the first week of school, which starts Aug. 17.

Mueller would not discuss specific contract issues. But she did describe several broad-ranging matters that surfaced in staff surveys conducted by Chicago ACTS, the newly formed union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

Teachers are looking for a salary schedule based on experience and credentials, plus more family-friendly benefits packages, notes Mueller. They also want to ensure any merit-based pay or bonuses are doled out fairly—an issue that cropped up in 2008 when Civitas implemented a merit system that, Mueller says, confused and frustrated some teachers.

That system was billed by administrators as based largely on gains in student test scores. But several teachers, including Mueller herself, taught classes that did not use any standardized tests. Ultimately, Mueller says, the principal had to make several judgment calls and some teachers felt slighted and angry.

The system was scrapped in 2009 and bonuses were instead given out at a flat rate to all teachers, she adds.

As reported earlier by Catalyst, teachers are also concerned with class sizes and workloads. They also want a formal voice on the deployment of any new Civitas initiatives.

As an example, Mueller says Civitas launched its “Failure Not an Option” campaign last year in a move to reduce course failure rates. But some teachers felt the initiative lacked a coherent approach and offered little in the way of professional development. Some teachers believed failure rates in their classes would impact their bonuses, and Mueller says it may have even encouraged grade inflation.

After the teachers work out a deal with Civitas, Mueller says teachers will need to form an executive council that can set up elections for officers. But hammering out a contract deal during the summer was a top priority.

Reach John Myers at myers@catalyst-chicago.org.