After prolonged labor battle, Chicago school board approves union deals in closed session

In the final step needed to set in stone new labor contracts, the Board of Education in closed session Wednesday unanimously approved 5-year deals with its teachers union and the union representing support staff. Together the contracts will add $137 million this school year, and more in subsequent years, to the cost of running the district.

Earlier in the meeting, board members acknowledged that the ambitious goals in the teachers agreement, such as hiring hundreds of new staff members, would require the union and the school district to work toward bridging rifts that widened during contentious contract negotiations. 

Related: Here’s how much the CTU, SEIU deals will cost Chicago taxpayers

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union previously ratified their contract, as did members of Service Employees International Union. Now, Chicago’s 25,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, along with support staff workers, officially have new contracts, marking the end of a labor dispute that included a bitter 11-day strike. The contract for the teachers expires in 2024, and for support staff in 2023. 

Board members called the teachers agreement a win for public education in Chicago. Board President Miguel del Valle lauded the deal and praised schools chief Janice Jackson for her leadership. 

Sendhil Revuluri, the board vice president, said the contract “align(s) our shared belief that public schools are essential, and that the money we put into public schools is essential.” 

Both district and union officials echoed that largely positive tone Wednesday. Jackson called the contract a “strong compromise” that included “important benefits.” Union President Jesse Sharkey said the agreement included a “number of transformative changes,” though he pointed out the contract failed to include an agreement on school closings. Whether Chicago will close schools as enrollment continues to dwindle is an open question.  

The board also approved the district’s amended budget and a plan for five strike makeup days. However, the conversation on the contract itself will continue. 

The day-to-day job of enforcing the contract now falls to leaders at the Chicago Board of Education, Chicago Public Schools and the teachers union — and to teachers themselves. 

For the board, that work includes finding skilled staff to fill the jobs added in the contract, making sure the cost of the agreement is sustainable, and, Revuluri said, ensuring that the district dispenses new resources with equity in mind.

Immediately, that will mean making good on the board’s promise to take on teacher recruitment and development through a committee that will aim to hire 3,000 additional black and Latinx teachers. That goal was stated as part of schools chief Janice Jackson’s five-year vision announced earlier this year. 

Elizabeth Todd-Breland, chair of the board’s workforce development and equity committee, said there would be a hearing on the initiative in December.

Correction: An original version of this story said the SEIU Local 73 contracted expired in 2024. It expires in 2023.