With contract talks continuing to stall after weeks of negotiation, 150 teachers at four Chicago International Charter School campuses are poised to go on strike in their bid for salary raises, smaller class sizes and additional hires of social workers and school counselors.

Barring a final-hour deal, educators will hit the picket line Tuesday morning outside CICS’ ChicagoQuest, Northtown, Wrightwood and Ralph Ellison schools, impacting more than 2,200 students.

The charter network’s management firm, Civitas Education Partners, had a bargaining session scheduled until 5 p.m. Monday with the teachers represented by the Chicago Teachers Union’s charter wing, and Civitas CEO LeeAndra Khan said they were “willing to negotiate around the clock” to avoid a work stoppage.

CTU officials on Friday said they rejected a proposal from management that included 8 percent raises in the first year of a contract that also would’ve cut the numbers of social workers, counselors and student services.

CICS Wrightwood Elementary, 8130 S. California Ave. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

CICS Wrightwood Elementary, 8130 S. California Ave. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

The union has also slammed the charter operator for vowing to stay open in the event of a strike, accusing them of lining up “scabs” from a for-profit substitute teacher company to cross picket lines.

Civitas says they’d keep “enough adults in the building to ensure that students are safe,” with principals and non-union staff still on the job and students participating in “online learning, recreational and arts activities.” After-school programs would be canceled.

“Our first responsibility is the safety and well-being of each of the 2,200 students who attend our four schools,” Khan said in a statement. “If teachers go on strike, it is simply too great a burden on the families of those students to close our schools when many families will struggle to find alternative care for their children.”

CTU officials accuse the charter operator of hoarding $36 million in public funds, a nest egg that management says is a necessary emergency fund equivalent to three months of operating expenses.

“We know that CICS has the money and the ability to do better by our students and schools,” Jen Conant, a CICS Northtown math teacher who chairs the teachers’ bargaining team, said last month when the union announced their strike date.

The starting salary for a CICS teacher is about $44,000, about $8,000 less than starting Chicago Public Schools teachers make.

A CICS teacher walkout would be Chicago’s second-ever charter teacher strike, following Acero network educators who hit the picket line for four days in December to win 2 percent yearly cost-of-living pay increases, along with provisions to reduce class sizes and prevent the network from sharing information on undocumented students with immigration authorities.


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