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Chicago Teachers Union on strike at charter school operator CICS

By staff |
February 6, 2019
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Chicago, IL - Top CICS bureaucrats have put management greed ahead of student need, forcing a strike at four unionized schools in the profitable charter operator's 14-school stable, February 5.

CICS management was also busted over the weekend for working to line up strikebreakers, offering to pay temporary workers $21.75 per hour to scab, an annual pay rate more than $10,000 greater than the low-wage paraprofessionals to whom management has refused to provide a living wage. Some of those low-wage paraprofessionals make barely $30,000 per year or less, despite bachelors or masters degrees and years of service at CICS. Yet CICS' 'offer' barely covers the inflation rate.

"CICS has spent nine months at the bargaining table stringing our members along. They are pocketing increased taxpayer funding and insulting our teachers and low-wage paraprofessionals with threats to cut counselors, social workers and critical frontline programs for our overwhelmingly low-income students," said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. "They have contempt for the Black and Brown students they serve, and contempt for the educators who work long hours for low wages to educate those students. They have contempt for the Chicagoans who pay their taxes to educate our public schoolchildren – that’s why they are stealing funds from our students’ educational needs. They’ve forced us to be on the picket line, and we will shut these schools down."

CICS is currently stockpiling more than $36 million in public funds that it has refused to spend on classroom needs - though just a fraction of those funds could settle the strike. Those public dollars could save the jobs of counselors and social workers who management has threatened to cut in exchange for raises for teachers, with management also seeking to ratchet up already large class sizes and deny low-wage paraprofessionals - some of whom step in to fill teacher shortages - a living wage.

In 2018, CICS, like charters across the state, saw an influx of additional revenue in the wake of the state's 2017 education funding formula. According to CICS' 2018 audit, CPS revenue to the charter operator increased from $82 million in 2017 to $93 million in 2018, an increase of 13%.

Instead of investing in classroom needs, management increased spending overall on “management and general” expenses by 31%, while increasing spending on program services for students by a paltry 3%. The misspending is even worse at CICS' four union schools, where expenditures on program services increased only $500,000, or 2%, in the last year, while CICS spending on management at the union schools increased by 35%. CICS has jacked up its six-figure salaries from four positions in 2017 to 14 today.

CICS' audit also shows that management created two new charter management organizations wholly owned by CICS that function as shell companies to siphon away public dollars from classroom needs. CICS-owned charter management organizations at the striking schools drain away upwards of thirty cents on the dollar into management fees and away from classrooms. That shell game has allowed the operator to amass the close to $40 million public dollars it is either hoarding in 'reserves' or has invested with the company of its co-founder and former president, Craig Henderson.

"Management's indifference to our students’ needs is bitterly disappointing, but not surprising," said Northtown high school teacher Jen Conant, who's been at the bargaining table with management since May. "CICS has decided to put their management greed ahead of student needs. They would rather sacrifice our students than fund classroom resources or pay a living wage to the educators who support our students. CICS has forced this strike, and we will be on the picket lines until we win real educational justice for our students."