SPRINGFIELD – As striking Chicago public school teachers took to the streets to picket Monday, one taxpayer-minded organization criticized the current salaries of the district’s school administrators and teachers, saying they add up to too much for too little.
Jim Tobin, president of Chicago-based Taxpayers United of America, an organization that advocates for tax relief and responsible use of tax money, said the average teacher pay in the Chicago public schools is $76,000, not including employee benefits or pensions.
“That’s $76,000 for nine months’ employment in a system that isn’t even mediocre. This is one of the lowest-performing school districts in the country,” Tobin said. “And they want a 29-percent pay raise. It just boggles the mind. These salaries are out of this world.”
The Chicago Teachers Union announced at 10 p.m. Sunday that negotiations between teachers and the city of Chicago, which operates Chicago Public Schools, had broken down and that teachers would be on strike beginning Monday morning.
It’s the first time Chicago teachers have gone on strike since 1987. Chicago has the nation’s third-largest public school system, with more than 30,000 educators and 400,000 students at 675 schools.
Midnight Sunday was the deadline for negotiations. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said only two issues – a teacher-evaluation system that links teacher performance to students’ standardized test scores and principals’ ability to let go of teachers who don’t make the grade – remained unresolved.
The Chicago school district is grappling with a $700 million budget shortfall.
“The issues that remain are minor,” Emanuel said Sunday night. “This is totally unnecessary. It’s avoidable, and our kids don’t deserve this. … This is a strike of choice.”
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the union and school district officials found common ground on compensation but that cuts to health benefits remained a sticking point.
“This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could have avoided,” she said. “We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.”
David Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education, said officials offered teachers a 16 percent pay raise over four years, which was double the amount of a previous offer. He described the negotiations as “extraordinarily difficult.”
According to a Chicago Teachers Union news release, the two sides also negotiated a variety of other matters during the talks. Among them:
Smaller class sizes.
More social workers and counselors to help students.
Restoring art, music, language, technology and physical education classes.
Textbooks for students on the first day of school instead of waiting several weeks for the materials.
Training for teachers.
Concessions for nursing mothers.
Negotiations resumed Monday.
Tobin described as “ridiculous” the raises Chicago teachers are seeking, adding that school administrators are paid even more for doing less. According to 2011 salary figures provided by Taxpayers United, the top administrator in Chicago Public Schools, Chief Executive Officer Jean- Claude Brizard, earned $250,000. Dozens of principals in the list of top-100 salaries in Chicago Public Schools earned $140,000 to $150,000.
“The purpose of the government schools is not to provide education for children but to provide employees with huge salaries and benefits,” Tobin said. “If (teachers) really cared about the children they would be in school and trying to get these kids a better education. But they’re basically concerned about lining their own pockets.”
Teachers at Chicago’s charter schools are not part of the Chicago Teachers Union, and students and educators at those schools were in class Monday.
Charter schools are public schools that are not restricted by the same guidelines as traditional public schools, but they are accountable for achieving certain goals and results, as set forth in their charters. Parents can choose to send their children to charter schools as an option to other, low-performing schools, and they can do so for no extra cost. About 52,000 students attend charter schools in Chicago.
John Tillman, chief executive officer of the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think-tank, on Monday urged those at the bargaining table in Chicago to focus on reforms that empower parents rather than perpetuating “a broken system.” He suggested expanding the number of charter schools in Chicago, establishing opportunity scholarships and continuing to offer merit pay for good teachers who deserve to be recognized and rewarded.
Once those things occur, Tillman said, “…we can begin to chip away at the monopoly that the Chicago Teachers Union has over the city’s educational system.”
“We must empower parents to choose what is best for their children, instead of letting Karen Lewis decide when kids can and cannot learn,” he said.