Management balks at $100k in economic support for teachers, as publicly funded schools deliver surplus to parent agency. Strike – which teachers voted overwhelmingly to support – would be first in nation of charter school network.
CHICAGO: With negotiations at a standstill, educators at ASPIRA’s charter schools will set a strike date, to be announced at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 7, at Pantoja High School, 3121 North Pulaski Road on Chicago’s northwest side. The strike would be the first of a charter school network in the nation. ASPIRA runs four publicly funded Chicago charter schools serving roughly 1,800 mostly Latino students. ASPIRA educators – all members of ACE, “A Council of Educators” with ChiACTS Local 4343 – have been negotiating for a new contract for ten months. 99% of voting bargaining members voted to strike on Feb. 22.
But negotiations have stalled as management balks at providing an additional $100,000 in economic support for teachers, while educators’ concerns over lack of transparency and accountability in finances and ineffectual leadership at the network’s most senior levels remain unaddressed.
Management’s intransigence threatens conditions in classrooms, argue teachers, who note that ASPIRA’s four schools actually generate a modest net surplus to the agency, which spends less on instruction than the average for Chicago’s publicly funded charter schools – while ASPIRA has expanded hiring outside of the bargaining unit.
This year, ASPIRA will spend more than 40% of its budget on “overhead”, including senior staff salary, compared to a Chicago charter school average of roughly 25%. Yet school leadership has been marred by chronic instability and poor conditions at ASPIRA’s four schools, while teachers and frontline staff shoulder responsibilities non-academic responsibilities that include student recruitment, janitorial services and fundraising for classroom needs.
Teachers have raised the alarm for years about deteriorating physical conditions in the schools, management’s failure to invest in non-academic programs that range from music to athletics, a persistent lack of resources for students, chronic staff vacancies and a parallel over-reliance on substitute teachers to fill the personnel shortfall.
Teachers also decry a growing issue with staff turn-over as experienced educators leave the schools for better working conditions. ESL teaching slots remain vacant, programs for special education students are not in compliance with ISBE standards while the percentage of students with IEPs – individualized education programs – is increasing, and students across the system are not getting the English language learning support they need – a critical abandonment of Aspira’s founding mission to serve the Hispanic community.
Educators lay blame for the charter network’s poor management squarely at the feet of ASPIRA Inc. board chair Fernando Grillo, who has led the non-profit for the last seven years. In the last 6 weeks alone, the charter network’s CEO and Chief Academic Officer have been removed, only one school has the same principal and vice principal who began the school year, and the system’s COO – who had essentially been running the charter school network – recently resigned.
ACE educators believe in ASPIRA’s founding principles to serve the Hispanic community, and have historically taken less compensation than peers at other public schools to support that mission. “We love our schools and have great respect for our principals, who struggle with management along with us to support our students,” said Marines Martinez, acting president of ACE. “All of us – principals, vice principals, teachers, mentors, advisors, and support staff – strive together to provide the best education we can for our students in truly great schools. We don’t want to strike, but there’s too much at stake for our students and our larger communities not to take a stand for the quality of our students’ education.”
Source: ASPIRA educators