June 16 2012

More Hot Air from the Windy City Teachers Union

Vicki E. Alger

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members from Chicago Public Schools—the nation’s third largest school district—have overwhelmingly voted (or so they say) to stage their first strike since 1987. The union’s House of Delegates now have to set a strike date. So it seems plans are right on track for shutting down the state as some union leaders put it a few weeks ago.

But other Americans are voting, too. A new poll found that just 22 percent of Americans, and less than half of teachers (43 percent) view teachers unions favorably. In fact, nearly one-third (32 percent) of teachers now view teachers unions negatively—twice as high as last year.

It’s easy to see why when in 2009 the CTU paid an executive $129,000 for working one hour a week. Other executives worked 45-hour weeks and were paid salaries ranging from $157,000 up to $178,000. (See p. 7 of the 2009 tax form here). Then there’s the salary of the national CTU affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers. AFT President Randi Weingarten, who reportedly earned a based salary well over $400,000 last year,  said in response to the vote:

“This level of participation and engagement by Chicago’s educators is both inspiring and instructive. It represents not just anger and frustration, but also a real commitment to Chicago’s students and a desire to be active participants in building strong public schools that help all Chicago children thrive.”

Most people don’t consider walking out on students a sign of “real commitment,” especially when taxpayers have been committed to per-pupil expenditures exceeding $13,000. In 2011, Chicago Public School teachers’ average salary was $65,000 excluding benefits (for a history of Chicago teacher salaries, see here), and administrators’ salaries averaged nearly $110,000. Meanwhile, one-third of CPS students do not earn passing test scores. As the Illinois Policy Institute noted:

In their opening round of teacher contract negotiations, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has demanded reduced class sizes, higher taxes on the city's richest residents and a whopping 30 percent salary increase with little accountability in return. Think about what they are calling for. At a time when 10.2 percent of Chicagoans are out of work, the CTU is demanding a pay increase that would bump the average Chicago teacher salary up to $92,606 from $71,236. That's nearly twice the amount of the $46,877 average annual income of a family in Chicago. The teacher salary figure is only for 9 months and also omits the generous benefits and perks that have been negotiated into the contract over the past years. What have Chicago residents received in return for a spending per-pupil amount of more than $13,000?

A graduation rate of 56 percent, an average ACT score of 16 (compared to the state average of 21) and an unsustainable pension system that is crowding out money for classrooms.

The negotiations require a different approach altogether. What will work for CPS students are reforms centered on parental choice in education. Mayor Emanuel should demand the following: An expansion of the number of effective charter schools that operate at a less expensive rate than traditional public schools, a voucher program for the city's poorest performing schools that will save taxpayers and an increase in cost-effective blended learning programs that will provide more options for parents and students.  We've seen the dismal results of increasing expenditures from one year to the next. The students of Chicago deserve better. School choice is the best way forward to improve a broken system.

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