Crusader Staff Report
The clock is ticking for Mayor Lori Lightfoot as the October 17 deadline nears for a potential strike that would cripple Chicago Public Schools and damage the profile of the city’s first Black female mayor.
Five months after Lightfoot took office, intense negotiations between her and the Chicago Teachers Union are at a standstill.
Both sides are pointing fingers at each other in a contract dispute that has deepened the divide between the mayor and union teachers. Meanwhile parents and students are on edge as time is running out to prevent the second teacher’s strike in the last decade.
CTU members voted to authorize a strike late last month after rejecting Lightfoot’s five-year contract offer that includes a $351 million, 16 percent raise in addition to the scheduled salary increases that teachers receive based on their years of service. The average teacher would have made a salary near $100,000 as their salary rises 24 percent under Lightfoot’s contract offer.
However, CTU, which includes 25,000 teachers, says the dispute is about more than just money. They want to increase the number of counselors, social workers, nurses and librarians. They also want more special bilingual education support.
The issue that CTU leaders have been most vocal about is limiting class sizes. The CTU said it has proposed that CPS set enforceable limits on class sizes for all grade levels, but CPS and the mayor’s office have refused to meet this demand.
CTU said in a statement that there should be limits on “exploding class sizes.” They say there are more than 40,000 elementary students in over 1,300 classrooms packed into classrooms of over 29 students, and at many schools the numbers are much worse—including worse than last year.
According to the CTU, at Gresham on the South Side, which has struggled with overcrowding for years, one 4th grade class has 42 students, a kindergarten and a 5th grade class have 37 students, and a 3rd grade class has 49 students. A kindergarten class at Bennett Elementary School is bursting with 42 five-year-olds. The student body at both schools is over 95 percent Black and low-income.
At Simeon High School, which boasts a school slogan that says, “Excellence is the Only Option,” core classes are struggling with massive overcrowding, with 39 students in two social studies classes, 39 students in a physics class and 40 students in two geometry classes.
The problem extends to CPS’ regional, gifted and magnet schools, including on the North Side, as well.
At Sauganash Elementary on the far Northwest Side, one 6th grade class has 35 students, two 4th grade classes have 36 and 37 students respectively, and at least one 3rd grade class has 40 students. Some class sizes are so high that schools are shunting students into split grade classes—meaning teachers are teaching two grades, not one, with two sets of curricula and two sets of lesson plans, essentially doubling the curriculum load.
One class at Smyth Elementary has 50 students.
Educators are using the new data—provided by CPS for every classroom in the district—to ramp up demands for hard and fast class size limits in the next contract.
Educators have been clear that they seek a contract that addresses ballooning class sizes that deny students the quality education they deserve. And those class size limits must be put in writing in an enforceable contract so parents and teachers can hold the mayor and CPS accountable for their promises.
“On September 27, Lightfoot made another contract offer, a 50-page document which she said was a “comprehensive” offer that would honor and respect our teachers and the critical work that they do to educate and enrich the lives of our students that would be fair and sustainable for Chicagoans and above all, that would provide our students with the support they need to continue their record-breaking success.”
Since then she called on CTU leaders to make a counter offer “that would address any of the substantive issues like compensation, insurance, staffing – any of those issues.”
“As of this moment, CTU negotiators have not provided a comprehensive counter-offer since I took office, and that was 141 days ago,” Lightfoot added, gesturing to a poster her staff had assembled next to the podium with the number 141.
“Instead of meeting us at the bargaining table to solve problems, our counterparts have focused their energy on preparing for a strike rather than avoiding one,” Lightfoot said. “We can’t bargain alone. We need our CTU counterparts to join us in resolving the open issues.”