Not just salaries: Five sticking points between Team Lightfoot and Chicago’s teachers union

After weeks of union strike threats and angry press conferences, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s team came out with its first public contract proposals last week, featuring a 14% raise over five years. 

The union immediately responded that the proposed wage hikes were not enough to cover the escalating cost of living in Chicago. It also repeated demands for more clinicians and social workers and an investment in support services such as trauma care. (Asked to describe their own demands, several rank-and-file educators told Chalkbeat they’d like less paperwork and more respect. Read what they had to say here.)

Lightfoot also offered changes prep time for teachers, grievance rules and grading frameworks — all areas of contention. 

Beyond pay, here are some of the city’s proposed contract changes: 

Enable principals to override elementary teacher prep times 

Facing chronic understaffing and a shortage of regular substitutes, schools sometimes call in other teachers and even classroom aides to work as de facto substitutes. The board’s proposal suggests that principals have the authority to reschedule prep time for elementary teachers if they are needed to watch students.  

In calculating time limits for filing a grievance, include professional development days 

Union members have 45 school days from an event to file a grievance. The board wants to clarify that those days include professional development days, as well as days spent in the classroom. 

Restrict appeals by teachers who receive the second-lowest rating

How principals and other administrators evaluate teachers has long been an area of controversy. Under the four ratings for teachers — excellent, proficient, developing and unsatisfactory — educators who are rated the two lowest, developing or unsatisfactory, can appeal their grade. The board’s proposal would no longer allow teachers rated developing to appeal their rating, arguing that the consequences of getting the second-lowest rating are not as dire as for teachers who face losing their job if they get the lowest rating. 

Make principals responsible for developing a grading framework 

The previous union contract suggested the district and union create a joint task force to redefine grading standards. Instead, the board suggests that each principal would put together a grading framework for their campus. 

The system would mirror the how principals have wide autonomy to set their own school’s curriculum. However, educators have criticized that practice for putting too much pressure on school leadership and creating inconsistency in the district.

A longer union contract 

The last contract between the union and the board ran for four years (it expired last week). This time, the city proposes the union sign a five-year contract to give the mayor more time between contract negotiations and also allow the board more time to incrementally raise salaries and put less budget pressure on the district. 

The proposal also gives a nod to the union’s push for an elected school board, noting that if Springfield passes legislation to elect members of the board, it would make “abundant sense” to have union contract negotiations after, not before or during, the election of a new school board.