With campaigning aldermen in tow, striking Chicago teachers target statewide charter lobbyist

The Chicago Teachers Union stepped up its pressure campaign on administrators of a second striking Chicago charter with a rainy day picket in front of the downtown offices of a key pro-charter lobbying group on Thursday.

The union also used to the picket to stage a moment of political theatre by inviting several of the candidates it has endorsed for alderman and its handpicked candidate for mayor, Toni Preckwinkle, to join the rally. Chicago’s first round of municipal elections are Feb. 26.

“Working conditions for teachers are learning conditions for kids. I’m here to support the teachers and the students they teach,” said Preckwinkle, with the chants of educators repeating “Shut it down” behind her.  “I really think it’s important to settle the strike and get the teachers back in the classroom and the children back in the classroom. We can only do that if (Chicago International) comes to the table.”

Pay remains a sticking point between the teachers’ union and Civitas Education Partners, which manages four striking schools under the larger Chicago International Charter Schools umbrella.

CICS management said it had offered a 30 percent raise over four years that would put teachers on par with salaries at district-run schools. The union said that proposal comes with trade-offs that are too high — inequitable distribution of raises, cuts to support staff, and neglect of paraprofessionals.

The strike affects 180 teachers and paraprofessionals at four schools that together serve about 2,200 students.

Lakeisha Poole, the parent of a first grader at CICS Wrightwood named Isaiah, joined the picket line Thursday, hugged her son’s teacher, and tried to shield the little boy from the rain as she described his recent academic progress in the classroom. “It’s all from help from my son’s teacher. My teachers ask for $30,000, and a teacher at (Chicago Public Schools) makes $60,000? That’s not right. These people put their all into our children,” Poole said.

She said the strike week had served as an awakening for her because it highlighted the charter network’s complex management structure and the fees paid toward administration that don’t go to the classroom. She also said parents also received an email early in the week that suggested students would be penalized for non-attendance, but subsequent emails had walked that back. “If Civitas doesn’t get it together, I’ll move him to another school.”

The union is hoping to gain wider attention by moving the picket lines Thursday to the Michigan Avenue office of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, an influential lobbying group that advises charter managers on operations and is active in Springfield on the legislative front.

The group is affiliated with an INCS Action PAC and a related INCS Action super PAC that together reported about $2 million in cash on hand at the end of the 2018.  

Here’s a look back at the week on the CICS picket lines: