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Teachers at Chicago art-focused school set strike deadline

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Teachers at the Chicago High School for the Arts say they will strike for the second time in four years next week if they can’t reach a contract agreement with the school’s board.

Represented by the Chicago Teachers Union’s charter division, the staff at ChiArts announced a Sept. 6 strike deadline Wednesday at a rally outside the Humboldt Park school.

ChiArts is a privately managed contract school funded by public and donor dollars, and it’s Chicago’s only arts-focused public high school.

Educators at Chicago School for the Arts accuse management of cutting programs and services. The union says it successfully fought off cuts to hours and days of arts programing and elimination of upper-level Spanish.

Educators at Chicago School for the Arts accuse management of cutting programs and services. The union says it successfully fought off cuts to hours and days of arts programing and elimination of upper-level Spanish.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Teachers’ demands include increased support for undocumented students, protection of the time teachers need to prep for classes and increased hiring to add more special education staff, a full-time nurse and a full-time social worker.

“All students deserve a safe, supportive, sustainable school, and we are not going to back down from this fight,” said Megan Pietz, an English teacher and member of the union’s bargaining team.

Bargaining has dragged on for more than a year without a contract, and educators accuse management at ChiArts of cutting programs and services. The union said it successfully fought off some proposed cuts over the summer, like a reduction in hours and days of art programming and the elimination of upper-level Spanish.

The union also called the ChiArts Foundation, which raises money for the school, an “unethical structure” that allows administrators to “shield resources from the classroom and public scrutiny [and] skirt requirements for open meetings and transparency.”

“Donors give to the ChiArts foundation because they promise to fund a robust arts education for primarily under-represented minority groups,” said Kyle Cortés, a theater teacher. “So you’d think that your combined dollars are flowing into the classroom, but no.

“They need to put their money where their mouth is,” Cortés said.

The ChiArts board said in a statement that it “soundly rejects recent charges made by the Chicago Teachers Union regarding the status of ongoing contract negotiations and actions taken by the school’s funding partner, the ChiArts Foundation.”

“We have been bargaining diligently and in good faith with the union over the past several months and continue to do so,” the board said, citing compensation offers “that would significantly raise all teachers’ pay immediately and in future years.”

“Contrary to the union’s recent claims, ChiArts has already agreed to support proposals protecting special education, diversity, and undocumented students, and has consistently provided nursing services at the school.”

The two sides are set to return to the bargaining table this week.

ChiArts teachers went on strike in 2019 but reached a tentative agreement the same evening. They were among four Chicago charter and contract schools that walked out against different operators at the same time.

State Sen. Javier Cervantes, whose daughter goes to ChiArts, said the school’s management needs to “get it together.”

“Get these folks a fair contract,” he said. “We know you’ve got it, stop acting like you all are broke.”

Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th), said the arts helped her through a traumatic childhood, and added that she’ll help push for a “fully staffed and fully funded [school] because arts is what saves lives.”

“Our teachers deserve fair pay,” Fuentes said. “They walk into this institution every day caring about the lives of young people, often having to be social workers and counselors when we do not have those positions filled.”

Fuentes added: “If we take the picket line in seven days, you can count on me.”



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