Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools public contract talks


Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools held their first-ever public bargaining session emphasizing their agreement on “Green Schools,” a series of proposals aimed at modernizing schools to reduce their environmental impact and mitigate the effects of climate change and air pollution on CPS students.

The meeting, held Friday evening at Marquette Elementary School in Chicago Lawn, was the first of roughly six sessions in which the public was invited to participate between the district and the more than 30,000-member union of teachers and school employees.

CTU’s proposal includes retrofitting buildings to fix aging infrastructure, adding central air conditioning for days of extreme heat, removing lead pipes, and installing solar or heat pumps to mitigate pollution in South and West side schools located near industrial corridors.

The union said their long-term goals include installing solar panels and fully modernizing cooling systems in schools, giving students better access to green spaces and funding technical education programs to prepare students for jobs in the renewable energy sector. The union is also asking for healthier and more “culturally relevant” lunches in 25 schools.

During the session, CPS and CTU agreed on several safety and environmental goals for the future, though contract negotiations remain ongoing. The union proposes a 4-year contract expiring in 2028, a year earlier than CPS’ proposed 5-year agreement.

Top officials from both organizations were at the bargaining table, including union President Stacy Davis Gates and the district’s Chief Operating Officer, Charles Mayfield. CPS Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez did not join as he is “expected to authorize operational leaders to oversee negotiation responsibilities,” the district said in a statement.

Community advocacy groups, including ONE Northside, the Southeast Environmental Task Force, and the Sunrise Movement, joined CTU rank-and-file members at the session.

“We have a lot of the same goals,” said CPS Chief Facilities Officer Ivan Hansen. “We care about the conditions in schools and what the students and staff experience.”

Despite the union and the district’s shared vision to implement “Green Schools” (CTU ally Mayor Brandon Johnson included “Green Schools” as one of his long-term recommendations in a July 2023 report), the proposal faces substantial headwinds, most notably the district’s $391 million deficit and a fiscal cliff as federal COVID-19 funds run out.

To help fund their proposals, CTU asks the district and state leadership to apply for federal grants like the Inflation Reduction Act, the Department of Energy’s Renew America’s Schools grant and available state funding. The union pointed to its part in the district receiving $20 million from the Environmental Protection Agency in January to buy 50 electric school buses over the next three years.

CTU/CPS holds a public bargaining session on “healthy, safe, green schools,” at Marquette Elementary on June 14, 2024. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)

“We think we can help you win money like this,” said CTU Vice President Jackson Potter.

District officials agreed to work with CTU on their contract proposals, provided they can work out some details independently. They also acknowledged an interest in greater transparency with the union, including in the grant writing process.

In a statement after the roughly two-hour session, the district said it has “limited resources” to cover the costs of “critically needed” capital improvements to schools totaling $3.2 billion.

The district’s budget for the 2024-25 school year, delayed until July, is a “crisis” according to CPS Chief Operating Officer Charles Mayfield. “If there’s a grant opportunity, yes, we want to be engaged with you [CTU] to be able to do that,” Mayfield said.

Top officials from CTU and CPS were at the bargaining table, including union President Stacy Davis Gates and the district’s Chief Operating Officer, Charles Mayfield. CPS Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez did not join as he is “expected to authorize operational leaders to oversee negotiation responsibilities,” the district said in a statement.

Community advocacy groups, including ONE Northside, the Southeast Environmental Task Force, and the Sunrise Movement, joined CTU rank-and-file members at the session.

While the union and the district said they agree on the need for “Green Schools,” (CTU ally Mayor Brandon Johnson included “Green Schools” as one of his long-term recommendations in a July 2023 report), the proposal faces substantial headwinds, most notably the district’s $391 million deficit and a fiscal cliff as federal COVID-19 funds run out.

To help fund their proposals, CTU is asking the district and state leadership to apply for federal grants like the Inflation Reduction Act, the Department of Energy’s Renew America’s Schools grant and available state funding. The union pointed to its part in the district receiving $20 million from the Environmental Protection Agency in January to buy 50 electric school buses over the next three years.

CPS Chief Operating Officer Charles Mayfield, center, speaks as CTU/CPS hold a public bargaining session on “healthy, safe, green schools,” at Marquette Elementary on June 14, 2024. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)

“We think we can help you win money like this,” said CTU Vice President Jackson Potter.

District officials agreed to work with CTU on their contract proposals during the meeting, provided they can work out some details independently. They also acknowledged an interest in greater transparency with CTU, including in the grant writing process.

Davis Gates said that despite their shared vision and commitment to securing additional funding, CTU also seeks structural changes in how money is allocated within the district in the long term. She said CPS’s current approach has resulted in disparities in schools and neighborhoods.

“We’ve got to figure out how to shift priorities,” Davis Gates said. “Much of that has more to do with process, planning, commitment and vision than it does funding.”



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