Walking the Line

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers strike is nationwide news.

My best friend since middle school is one of those thousands of red T-shirted teachers on the picket line. She does not want to be there. She wants to be in her fourth grade classroom. She met her students and then the following week was called to strike.

Last week Sunday night at 9pm my time (8pm her time) we sat texting back and forth as she received updates about the negotiations and warnings from her delegate to make sure finances were secure and to possibly get a postponement with the bank on any mortgage payments or loan payments since a strike means no pay check.

My best friend is not one to freak out. Ever. But she was freaking out.

But last week, she proudly picketed. Why? Because the union and the administration in the Chicago Public Schools couldn’t come to an agreement.

Friends, this strike is not about teacher pay.

Let me say that again.


The laws (SB7) that dictate negotiations between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) state that the ONLY THING that can be negotiated is teacher compensation. Other things like class sizes, standardized testing, etc. can be brought up by CPS or not. So the ONLY WAY for CTU to get CPS to talk about those things if CPS doesn’t bring them up, is to get to them via compensation.

Screwed up? Yes.

Sends the wrong message? Most definitely.

But it is the only way to get to the stuff that matters most for student learning and well-being — by throwing their own appearance under the {school} bus.

To get to the stuff that matters for students, teachers have to complain about their wage.

Teachers basically want to have a say in education. Shocking, I know.

The Mayor’s policy makers (whom he chose), want the teachers to shut up, so they can save money.

The demands of the teachers are many…smaller class sizes (There are currently kindergarten classes with 37 kids and one teacher. ONE. That is unacceptable.), revamping of teacher evaluations (I could write and entire post about why merit pay and evaluating teachers on standardized testing is completely unfair), better social work support in schools for the at-risk population, and the list goes on.

So if the teachers are “all about the students”, why leave the classrooms to get what they want?

There is not a complete contract in place.

CPS broke the last contract with CTU when they threw their hands up and said there were no funds for the raises that had been agreed upon and that CTU needed to work longer hours for ZERO compensation. Later, at an FOIA request, CTU found out that the $70 million that was supposed to be put toward teacher pay was handed over to pay the police department funds owed to them RIGHT BEFORE THE CONTRACT WAS BROKEN.

Other funds that the Mayor had access to were not used to pay the teachers either. CPS hired an arbitrator, the arbitrator found in favor of the teachers, and CPS again broke its pledge.

Why on EARTH would the teachers go back to work on NO contract when their last contract was broken?

Of course they are going to hold out for something completely rock solid so CPS can’t go back on their word and hurt students and teachers all over again.

At the time this is written, (Monday) a Judge Peter Flynn has declined to hold a hearing on the city’s injunction to get the students back to school “immediately” since tomorrow (Tuesday) the CTU delegates are set to meet to decide whether to suspend the strike or go back to negotiations. The judge didn’t see a point in hearing the injunction when the strike could resolve itself by Tuesday and students could be back on Wednesday.

Why are the City of Chicago and CPS fighting so hard against their teachers and, in turn, their students? These children are Chicago’s future. Why are they trying to shortchange them?

For the latest on the Chicago Teacher’s Union news on the strike, check out Catalyst Chicago


Photo Credit: The Chicago Tribune


  1. Thanks for the explanation…I’ve got more ammunition now 🙂

  2. If you read the latest article from the Chicago Tribune on the strike and resulting deal, it’s hard to see exactly how this strike has benefited the children. Also, as a citizen of Chicago, I’m worried about how the city’s going to raise the $300 million needed to pay the teachers’ 17.6% pay raise due over the next four years. Ideas, Katie?

    • I did read it. It was a very positive article…from both sides. I would think that the majority of parents would feel best if their children spent their days learning with professionals who are being evaluated strictly, but paid for their time. The raise must be something the Mayor thinks the city can swing since it was negotiated at 17.6%. That is what “contract negotiation” means. Both sides say what they want (or don’t want), the negotiate to something they can agree on, and then sign it.

      I guess I don’t understand why the vast majority of people assume teachers are the exception to the rule when it comes to paying professionals what they deserve. Is it because they chose a career out of compassion for others?

      I don’t get why cities, states, heck the nation, thinks it is better off paying for things like unlimited health care for life for politicians than investing in the people who are shaping our children.

      • Okay, Katie. I will tell you how they’re going to make that $300 million. By cutting money from other programs needed by the city, including police and fire, and shutting down low attended schools, which in turn means laid off teachers and kids pushed to already crowded schools.

        Here is why the strike really irritates me. Teachers in Chicago make between 45-70,000 a year, and that is a fact taken from the CPS hiring website. During the strike they’ve been campaigning for a raise every year, regardless of the economy, and for ultimate job security, asking that they be allowed to keep their jobs even if kids fail standarized testing year after year. Meanwhile I haven’t had a raise in four years, my sister took a pay cut so no one in her company would get laid off, and both my husband and my friend’s husband lost their jobs. But please, tell me how the only job that matters is a teacher. Are you telling me that my sister, who tests soil and water for chemicals, doesn’t have a worthwhile career? Are you telling me that I, who make around $25,000 a year working in childcare, am getting paid what I deserve? Let me be clear that I love my job and am fine with what I make. I chose my career out of compassion for others.

        We are clearly on opposite sides of this debate. You are obviously swayed to the cause of the teachers because you are one yourself, and I am a Chicago citizen wondering how this deal will affect not only my life in the city, but also my future children. I really hope, though am doubtful, that this deal will make any sort of change in the quality of the CPS schools.

        Please do not respond to this comment. My first comment was only to enlighten you to my concern about how the raise will affect the Chicago community, and I really didn’t want to start a debate, especially with someone who doesn’t know anything about CPS teachers.

        • I respect the fact that you don’t want to start an argument. I get it. But don’t tell me I know nothing about CPS teachers. That could not be further from the truth.

          And for an answer to your original question about how Chicago will pay for it all? I refer you to the comment below by Tonya (A Chicago resident and teacher) which is what I would have said, but you seem to not trust my FACTS just because I don’t teach for CPS.

  3. Unfortunately, most people are focusing on the fact that teachers wanted/recieved a raise. The reason that aspect got so much coverage on the news is because that is the only thing teachers in Illinois are legally allowed to strike over (See SB7). Teachers had to demand a raise just to keep CPS at the bargaining table. CTU wanted to discuss how to fairly evaluate teachers and class size. CPS refused to discuss class size and so it remains at 36. Really? Ever been the only adult in a room with 36 5 year olds. No wonder they can’t read. Also, anyone who has looked at any education research knows that standardized test scores are not an accurate way to evaluate teachers. It’s a greater detector of economic status. How will Chicago pay for all of this? Easy, they don’t have to raise taxes at all. They can start by cutting the ridiculous expenses from the education budget that have no impact on students and learning. They could also use TIF money instead of giving it to people who are already millionaires and on the board of education. Sounds like a conflict of interest to me. Finally, I am fine with people deciding they don’t want to support teachers or the stike. All I ask is they form those opinions on facts and not the terrible media coverage.

  4. I totally understand with the SB7 rule why CTU had to request raises in order to get the other issues handled on the table. But I wish that teachers wouldn’t keep focusing on how they are not paid like professionals. I have always made less (working in the private sector for both a large company and small firm) than what the teachers locally in my area make. Which means, likely, many {not all of course} of the parents of their students are in the same boat as me. We (the non-teachers) typically have to pay much more toward our health insurance and into our retirement plans, and in the last 4 years (since the recession started) I have not seen a raise (thankfully, I’m back to my pre-recession salary).

    I’m not saying that teachers don’t deserve to be paid well, but the fact the of the matter is that they may not understand how truly blessed they are to have a union working on their behalf to get the benefits that they have.

    • The average teaching salary that is report for CPS is something like $45000-$70000. And that is inaccurate because it counts EVERY retired teacher who do not have anything taken out for insurance or union dues (among other things) anymore. This is also true of all other districts when reported out. The figures the public sees are inflated. I have been in my district for 10 years. I work in one of the best paid areas of the countries as far as teacher salary compared to cost of living. I barely make the low end of the above figures. This is after having to take 45+ credits (30 or so which were toward a MA) since being employed (money paid for out of my own pocket), and paying for 3 teaching certificates (the original + 2 renewals) all which were over $200 a piece (out of my own pocket).

      I DO pay for insurance. Maybe not as much as other people do, but I pay enough for insurance that it’s a noticeable hit to my check. Granted, this is a new development, but I don’t complain about it because it’s top notch health care, so I should have to pay for it if I want to continue to have it.

      I haven’t had a salary increase in as long as I can remember. In fact, my take home now compared with 10 years ago when all I had was a BA and a teaching certificate is LESS.

      Times changed. The economy took a hit. We had a pay freeze. I STILL had to get my credits and MA to maintain my certificate. But I don’t make anymore money. Anyone else with as much schooling and experience as I have would be making more. That is all we are saying.

    • Jeremy Harbottle says

      Julie you are right, teachers are blessed with the support of a union, but unions are becoming a dying dinosaur. The disheartening thing about this is the fact of how unions are dwindling in our country along with the middle class. As unions are slowly pushed out when it comes to protecting the American workers, the middle class is slowly pushed out of existence.
      The middle class is shrinking and the only other class growing is the poor class. It is proven that even non-union members benefit when there is a union present in their industry protecting worker’s rights. So as unions start to fight back to have a voice in how people are compensated not only with fair wages, but with health benefits and retirement funds, all Americans in the working class will benefit and in turn will lead a more prosperous life.
      A strike is rarely about self-gain, but for equal compensation for all workers, unlike the firing of hundreds of employees by a CEO in order to make the bottom line of a budget look better.


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