ASPIRA Charter Schools, teachers reach tentative deal

Diane Pathieu Image
Friday, March 10, 2017
ASPIRA Charter Schools, teachers to meet again before strike
Teachers at a Chicago charter school network said Tuesday they are prepared to walk the picket line if a last minute contract deal isn't reached.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- ASPIRA Charter Schools and the teachers union reached a tentative agreement Thursday night that is expected to prevent a strike.

The new deal calls for a 3 percent pay raise each of the next two years. It also shortens their work day by 25 minutes, without impacting student class time.

Union members still need to approve the deal.

If ASPIRA teachers do walk off the job, it would be the first strike against any charter network in the U.S.

Last month, teachers overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. A strike date was set for March 17, so that students and teachers can attend a March 15 performance of "Hamilton: An American Musical."

ASPIRA runs four publicly funded Chicago charter schools, serves 1,400 students - who are mostly Latino - and has 106 educators.

School officials said they offered the union a 2 percent annual increase. The union asked for more than 3 percent. Nothing was agreed on, so the vote to strike was overwhelming.

Teachers said at a press conference Tuesday that ASPIRA schools were not allocating money correctly, letting basic school building needs - like clean bathrooms and stalls - are falling by the wayside. Educators posted photos on Facebook from inside the high school of leaky ceilings, water marks and bug traps in the building.

"We want to make sure that ASPIRA tells us where they are spending their money. If you walk into our schools... I've been with ASPIRA for five years and every year it seems like conditions are getting worse and worse," said Marines Martinez, an ASPIRA teacher.

Parents agree. They said teachers put much of their own money into classrooms and need a raise.

"The school needs a lot of things. He knows that. I ask him for minor things and the school don't have it. This school doesn't have a gym, doesn't have anything," said Louis Mendez, an ASPIRA parent.

ASPIRA officials said they have had to make drastic cuts to the budget and administration. They said the demands from the teachers union will jeopardize teaching positions, affect classroom size and hurt education for students.

They acknowledged building maintenance issues and said they're trying hard to get everything taken care of.

"But it's no secret that in the state of Illinois, there's a school funding problem. That school funding problem manifests itself with the deficits that Chicago Public Schools have. As a result of that, that gets passed on to us as a manager of a network of schools. So the question is, given the limited resources that we have, do we allocate those resources to classroom instruction, to the support of students, to the support of schools, and do some deferred maintenance? For us, it's clear. Our focus are the students," said Fernando Grillo, ASPIRA chairman.