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IL: Taxpayer advocate says Chicago teachers’ salaries ‘out of the world’

By   /   September 10, 2012  /   8 Comments

Chicago public school teachers hit the streets to picket Monday during their first strike since 1987. (Photo from Chicago Teachers Union Blog)

By Jayette Bolinski | Illinois Watchdog

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 the 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 libraries.
  • Air-conditioned classrooms.
  • 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.

Contact Jayette Bolinski at jayette.bolinski@franklincenterhq.org. Find Illinois Watchdog on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @ILSthouseNews.

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  • Renate Meyer

    with student educator ratios of about 14 to 1 you’d think they could do a better job. Merit pay seems to be the only way to go here

  • Mike

    I really get tired of the anti-teacher rhetoric on the right (I’m a economic libertarian with conservative social leanings and former teacher) CPS loses 1000 teachers a year many to the suburbs. The suburbs pay higher salaries especially to experienced teachers and they don’t have to commute as far. Many of Chicago schools are gang and drug infested squalors. I’m all for merit pay but the education establishment has no idea how to implement it or make it work. It isn’t working in NY where teacher evaluations swing widely from year to year. All teachers have a college degree and state certification from a state approved education program (stop comparing their salaries to the “average” which includes non-degreed workers) Teachers have to maintain their certificates through college coursework. Teachers at “successful” schools are all unionized so what is the beef with unions? Why does our society require algebra as a graduation requirement and then punish teachers when students can’t do the work? How can you teach English and writing to kids whose families can’t properly pronounce words, use a verb correctly or write a complete sentence? It is easy to look at the success of charter schools because students want to be there. Randomly pick group of students to send to a charter school and see if they preform better. What happened to vocational education? The activists in the state legislature removed vocational-technical education from our curriculum. Kids today cannot even use a screwdriver.

  • Bob

    Chubb & Moe in their book more than 10 years ago, recommended that a school function like a small business, where the boss (the Principal) has the ability to hire and fire the employee (The Teacher). That way, the boss is responsible for the results of the business, which is the students ability to learn. No standard assessment is as good as the boss who wanders around the business evaluating what is happening. Same with schools.

  • Mike

    How naive and obviously you have no idea how schools function. Principals don’t want to, or have the time to track what is going on in each classrooms. Some teachers get bad evaluations if they refer too many discipline problems to the principal.

  • Barb

    I’m a retired teacher from Indiana and agree with everything you said. I worked in high school special education classes. The teachers of those classes could never win a merit award for improving student achievement by one year for each year in school. That’s why the students are in those classes–to received specialized instruction which isn’t happening because these students are also being prepared for standardized achievement tests most can’t handle at their grade level. Educational reform at the federal level was supposed to include help as soon as a child started having problems. Nonexistent. Nobody seems to understand that students in a particular grade include those below grade level, those on grade level and those above grade level. We are supposed to ignore that this is true.

  • Jody of Marin

    No one is against teachers – certainly no one I know or have ever known. My son is a teacher, a really superb teacher. What is destroying the educational system throughout the United States are the TEACHERS’ UNIONS. It’s that simple. Google Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. An income of $600,000 in 2009 ‘forced’ Ms Weingarten to leave New York City to avoid its high tax rates.
    Let’s focus on teachers, students and schools. Let’s do all we can to make sure salaries like Ms Weingarten’s are a thing of the past and that money is redirected to where it should be – the education of our children.

  • PJ

    I could not agree with you more. I have taught for 34+ years. Business is trying to direct education with their view. What they are forgetting is that children do not come to school with all the same visions that a business might enjoy. Children/parents come to school with very different backgrounds and thoughts about what is supposed to happen there. We need to understand that children are NOT a product. They do not all come from the same prototype mold.They are not all college bound and should not be tested as such.
    We have come to a place where most parents want their child to have no work outside of the classroom, play games while they are in class to ‘make it fun’, get rewarded constantly regardless of the work they put forth, and never be corrected or told they need to put out more effort. In addition, many parents think their child is the most special child a teacher has ever had. Some children come from homes where they have stayed up all night watching movies, or laid in the middle of an apartment because of flying bullets on outside walls. Some eat nothing of nutritional value, breathe smoke day and night, and were born of drug and alcohol abuse.
    Tests that just test are not valid, in fact, many children do not see any importance to what they are being asked. Many of the tests are biased in what they are asking due to vocabulary or they situations they present. If your life does not look as the comprehension story presents it, you may as well be reading it in another language. In addition, we are told not to stress the importance of the test, so many children regard it as just another thing to disregard.
    Test children for growth and progress. Measure it over the course of the year AND be prepared with a course of action if the child is not showing growth. Have the ‘tough talk’ with parents. Have programs available for those who can not handle a regular education programs.
    Most of all, be more informed about what you are asking teachers to do. Don’t just listen to the political ‘hype’. Teachers work long hours, go back to school to stay up with current best practice, give of their time after school hours doing extra-curricular projects, buy many things for their students and classrooms, and work through the summer to help kids. To insinuate that they are greedy for wanting their families to live in safe neighborhoods, put food on their tables, and have medical care is shameful.
    Just ask yourself, if you had 25+ kids in your office or living room, who all needed help, educationally, socially, perhaps medically, were absent often and you had to get them ready everyday to pass one test that will keep your job, could you do it? If you think it is easy, then I suggest that you go to school and volunteer your time, see what teachers have to deal with every day, AND then we will talk.

  • lainer51

    Get your butts back to work!!! why didnt you strike in June,July, August if you really CARE about the kids and not your own agenda. The prez should have the guts Reagan had during the air traf. controllers strike – order them back to work , if they refuse, fire ALL and rehire caring teachers who are looking for work!!
    Social Policies 101