Contract Ratified at Chicago's First Unionized Charters

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Teachers and staff at three Civitas charter schools in Chicago overwhelmingly ratified their first contract on Nov. 3, crediting a collaborative negotiations process for achieving the breakthrough agreement.

The three-year collective bargaining agreement for Civitas' Ralph Ellison Campus, Northtown Academy and Wrightwood Campus is the first of its kind for charter schools in Chicago. The Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS) is the union that represents nearly 140 teachers at the three schools.

"This contract puts students first, gives teachers a voice and a seat at the table, and makes parents and the community partners in education," says Emily Mueller, a high school Spanish teacher at Northtown Academy and chair of the negotiations. "The negotiations were conducted expeditiously and thoughtfully because there was respect between the parties. Because both sides acted in good faith, students and teachers came out the clear winners."

When teachers at the three schools voted on June 18 to form a union, they said they wanted a voice in improving learning and working conditions at their schools. Since then, Mueller notes, there has been a dramatic decrease in teacher turnover.


"This contract is a great example of how charter schools can be incubators for innovative reforms and good labor-management practices," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "Civitas teachers are walking the education-reform walk by forging a new path for charter schools that value collaboration."

Among the contract's highlights: Teachers will receive raises ranging from 4.2 to 25.4 percent in the first year of the contract, and from 2.5 to 10.5 percent in the second and third years; class sizes will be capped at 29, with anything larger going to a teacher-administrator conference or arbitration to resolve; teachers and administrators will jointly plan curriculum, professional development and the school calendar; a new teacher evaluation system based on the well-respected Danielson evaluation system will be implemented; and following a teacher's first year, he or she will have due process rights based on "just cause" for discipline and discharge decisions.

November 3, 2009