ASPIRA Educators to Strike on March 17 if No Progress in Negotiations

Marines Martinez, acting president of ACE, the Chicago ACTS Local 4343 educators’ council representing ASPIRA educators, announces a strike date of March 17 if the union cannot come to an agreement with management. (Source: Christine Geovanis)

Sticking points include under $140k in additional economic support for teachers in multi-million dollar charter network, as publicly funded schools deliver surplus to parent agency. Teachers voted overwhelmingly to strike in what would be first strike in U.S history of charter school network.

CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–March 7, 2017.  Educators at ASPIRA’s charter schools have set a strike date of March 17, citing a standstill with management in both economic and non-economic issues. Teachers will rally on Thursday, March 9 at 4:30 pm at ASPIRA Business & Finance High School, 2989 N Milwaukee Ave. — just before the beginning of the educators’ next bargaining session at that location.

“Our priority is our students’ education — and all of us, from our principals and vice principals to mentors and support staff, work tirelessly to support our students’ intellectual, social, and emotional growth,” said Marines Martinez, acting president of ACE. “Together, we are the backbone of great schools that deserve management’s support and respect — and while we don’t want to strike, we will if we must to take a stand for our students and our larger communities.”

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.

To date, management has balked at providing an additional $135,000 next year in economic support for teachers in a four-school charter network with an annual budget of more than $15 million dollars. That’s less than 1% of ASPIRA’s annual charter school budget, which delivers a surplus in public dollars to ASPIRA’s overall organizational budget, including its non-charter school operations. Aspira’s administrative overhead is one of the highest of all charter networks.

Negotiations have also stalled over non-economic issues that include reducing the school day and year for educators — but not students, whose classroom would remain the same under the teacher’s proposals, which are designed to reduce what teachers argue is one of the longest work days and years for educators in Chicago’s charter school system.

ACE educators have historically worked considerably longer work days and put in more non-academic hours than peers in Chicago’s public schools and other charter networks out of an embrace of ASPIRA’s founding principles to serve the Hispanic community. ASPIRA educators have also historically taken less compensation than peers at other public schools to support ASPIRA’s mission to nurture the leadership, intellectual, and cultural potential of Latino youth.

“We’re forced to deal with chronic staff vacancies, too much turnover among experienced educators who simply cannot afford to work for ASPIRA schools under these conditions, and substitute teachers rather than full-time, dedicated educators,” said ACE member Tito Rodriguez. “At the same time, we’re doing jobs that management is responsible for, from student recruitment and janitorial upkeep to fundraising for our students’ classroom needs, while management has cut support for critically important non-academic programs that range from music to athletics. If we have to strike to get management on track and preserve excellence in our students’ educational growth, we’re prepared to hit the picket lines.”

Management has also refused to address lack of transparency and accountability in finances and ineffectual leadership at the network’s most senior levels — issues that undermine staff retention, stability in the classroom, and the quality of the educational environment. While management’s policies threaten conditions in classrooms, ASPIRA’s top management continues to spend less on instruction than the average for Chicago’s publicly funded charter schools at the same time that the agency 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%.

ESL teaching slots also 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, say educators.

Educators are demanding that ASPIRA Inc. board chair Fernando Grillo, who has led the non-profit for the last seven years, take meaningful steps to address their concerns — including those related to instability and lack of accountability at the executive level. 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.

“ASPIRA’s educators are the anchors of our schools — and our ACE educators are simply asking that they be afforded the basic rights any teacher deserves,” said Chris Baehrend, President of Chicago ACTS Local 4343. “That includes the right to earn a living wage that respects our teachers’ experience and commitment, the right to working conditions that lift up and support our students’ academic achievements and our teachers’ dignity, and the right to work under policies and best practices that create an empowering, supportive school culture. If it takes a strike to convince senior management of the critical importance of these most basic of rights — rights that are grounded in our educators’ commitment to the well-being and success of our students — then our educators will strike.”

Source: ACE: A Council of Educators at ASPIRA charter schools of Chicago, ChiACTS Local 4343




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